CHICAGO -- He did it. He finally admitted it. Lance Armstrong doped.
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, a Farmingdale native 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 last 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."
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"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."
Armstrong was direct; neither pained nor contrite. He looked straight ahead. There were no tears and very few laughs.
Whether this confession will help or hurt his 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.
Along the way, Armstrong cast aside teammates who questioned his tactics, yet swore he raced clean and tried to silence anyone who said otherwise. Ruthless and rich enough to settle any score, no place seemed beyond his reach -- courtrooms, the court of public opinion, even along the roads of his sport's most prestigious race.
That relentless pursuit was one of the things that Armstrong said he regretted most.
"It's a major flaw, and it's a guy who expected to get whatever he wanted and to control every outcome. . . . And when I say there are people who will hear this and never forgive me, I understand that. I do."
Anti-doping officials have said nothing short of a confession under oath -- "not talking to a talk-show host," is how World Anti-Doping Agency director general David Howman put it -- could prompt a reconsideration of Armstrong's lifetime ban from sanctioned events.