There's precedent for Lance Armstrong coming clean

Lance Armstrong arriving to take part in a

Lance Armstrong arriving to take part in a training session during the second of the two rest days of the 2010 Tour de France cycling race at the hotel hosting the US cycling team. (July 21, 2010) (Credit: Getty Images)

John Jeansonne

Newsday columnist John Jeansonne. John Jeansonne

Jeansonne has been a reporter in Newsday’s sports department since

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When it comes to great champions whose accomplishments include a black belt in chutzpah, Lance Armstrong's years of vehement denial -- leading up to his anticipated confession of doping to Oprah Winfrey -- plays like an old television rerun.

Canadian sprinter Ben Johnson, busted days after he won the 1988 Olympic 100 meters, long renounced the test results in terms of a conspiracy. Only at the end of a six-month Canadian federal inquiry a year later was Johnson cornered into admitting, "I lied," and that he in fact had been on a steroid regimen for seven years.

Marion Jones, three-time gold medalist at the 2000 Olympics, filed a $25-million defamation suit when accused of drug assistance, repeatedly noting that she never failed a doping test. She wound up tearfully acknowledging she had lied to prosecutors about the matter and went to prison for six months.


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Slugger Mark McGwire eventually confessed to juicing years after having deflected Congressional questions with refusals to "talk about the past." Cycling's Floyd Landis steadfastly rejected the positive test during his apparent 2006 Tour de France victory -- he even wrote a book, "Positively False," insisting on his innocence -- but finally reversed field four years later.

The narrative foisted upon a public eager to believe celebrated athletes cannot be anything but heroic is that the testing process is faulty. Or that: OK, there might have been banned stuff in the accused athlete's system but he or she "never knowingly" used performance-enhancing drugs.

Perhaps it depends on what the meaning of "never" and "knowingly" is. Home run king Barry Bonds admitted ingesting something called "the clear," the previously undetectable steroid THG, in the BALCO scandal, but claimed innocence because he thought the clear was "flaxseed oil."

Jones, even after she emerged from jail and sat down for a televised confessional chat with Winfrey -- her again! -- brought out the old "never knowingly" defense. At that point, Jones fell back on the flaxseed oil defense and claimed her real failure was "trusting the people around me."

(Those around her included shot putter C.J. Hunter, who was her first husband when he failed steroid screening in 2000, and sprinter Tim Montgomery, who was her live-in partner when he was accused -- and later admitted to -- using performance-enhancing drugs.)

With Armstrong, skepticism about his athletic purity has been building a long time, but it took a 1,000-page document released in the fall by the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency -- which including testimony by 11 of Armstrong's former teammates -- to at last end his repeated charges of "witch hunts" and "yellow journalism."

On Monday, Armstrong reportedly reached out to members of the cycling community and workers at the Livestrong Foundation he co-founded to support cancer victims (of which he was one) prior to his interview with Winfrey. A source told The Associated Press that Armstrong did not make a confession to the Livestrong workers to using performance-enhancing drugs. In his chat with Winfrey, it was not clear just how far he would go in his mea culpas, but he has plenty of ground to cover. A few Tours de France worth.

So, beyond the ratings value of Thursday's Winfrey show -- Armstrong is a much bigger name than Ben Johnson, Marion Jones, Landis or McGwire -- the process of long-overdue truth-telling has become a little too common with big-time sports cheaters.

A star dopes, repeatedly denies evidence of having done so, so that in eventually acknowledging the sin -- long, long after smoke began rising from a dashed reputation -- he is forced to call himself a liar.