He was light on the details and didn't name names. He mused that he might not have been caught if not for his comeback in 2009. And he was certain his "fate was sealed" when longtime friend, training partner and trusted lieutenant George Hincapie, who was along for the ride on all seven of Armstrong's Tour de France wins from 1999-2005, was forced to give him up to anti-doping authorities.
But right from the start and more than two dozen times during the first of a two-part interview Thursday night with Oprah Winfrey, the disgraced former cycling champion acknowledged what he had lied about repeatedly for years, and what had been one of the worst-kept secrets for the better part of a week: He was the ringleader of an elaborate doping scheme on a U.S. Postal Service team that swept him to the top of the podium at the Tour de France time after time.
"At the time it did not feel wrong?" Winfrey asked.
"No," Armstrong replied. "Scary."
"Did you feel bad about it?" she pressed him.
"No," he said. "Even scarier."
"Did you feel in any way that you were cheating?"
"No," Armstrong paused. "Scariest."
"I went and looked up the definition of cheat," he added a moment later. "And the definition is to gain an advantage on a rival or foe. I didn't view it that way. I viewed it as a level playing field."
Whether his televised confession will help or hurt Armstrong's bruised reputation and his already-tenuous defense in at least two pending lawsuits, and possibly a third, remains to be seen.
Either way, a story that seemed too good to be true -- cancer survivor returns to win one of sport's most grueling events seven times in a row -- was revealed to be just that.
Winfrey got right to the point, asking for yes-or-no answers to five questions.
Did Armstrong take banned substances? "Yes."
Was one of those EPO? "Yes."
Did he do blood doping and use transfusions? "Yes."
Did he use testosterone, cortisone and human growth hormone? "Yes."
Did he take banned substances or blood dope in all his Tour wins? "Yes."
On the day he went public with the admission of doping, Olympic officials disclosed one more embarrassment for Armstrong: He was stripped of a bronze medal won at the 2000 Sydney Games.
The International Olympic Committee sent a letter to Armstrong on Wednesday night asking him to return the medal, just as it said it planned to do last month. The decision was first reported Thursday by The Associated Press.
The timing of the IOC move was not related to the TV interview.
The IOC executive board discussed revoking the medal in December, but delayed a decision until cycling's governing body notified Armstrong he had been stripped of his seven Tour de France titles and all results since 1998. He then had 21 days to appeal.
Now that the deadline has expired, the IOC decided to take the medal away. The letter to Armstrong was also sent to the U.S. Olympic Committee, which would collect the medal.
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