Lance Armstrong admitted to doping throughout his cycling career during an interview with Oprah Winfrey on Thursday night.
The interview, the first part of which was broadcast Thursday night on the Oprah Winfrey Network, was conducted Monday in Austin, Texas. The second part of it will air Friday night.
Asked by ESPN if he was compensated for the interview, Armstrong said in a text message earlier Thursday, "Absolutely not."
In what was billed as a no-holds-barred question-and-answer session, Armstrong admitted to using performance-enhancing drugs, which led to him being stripped of his seven Tour de France titles and banned for life from the sport. The International Olympic Committee also sent a letter to Armstrong on Wednesday night asking him to return his bronze medal from the 2000 Games.
Some highlights of the interview from Thursday night:
Oprah: Did you ever take banned substances to enhance your cycling performance?
Oprah: Was one of those banned substances EPO?
I think, and I don't know if you pulled those two words out of the air, jerk and humanitarian, I'd say I was both, and we saw both, and now we're seeing certainly more of the jerk part than the activist, the humanitarian, philanthropist, the leader of the foundation. We're seeing that now. I am flawed, deeply flawed.
Oprah: Did you ever blood dope or use blood transfusions to enhance your cycling performance?
Oprah: Did you ever use any other banned substance like testosterone, cortisone or human growth hormone?
Oprah: In all seven of your Tour de France victories, did you ever take banned substances or blood dope?
Oprah: In your opinion, was it humanly possible to win the Tour de France without doping? Seven times in a row?
Armstrong: Not in my opinion.
Oprah: For 13 years you didn't just deny it, you brazenly and defiantly denied everything you just admitted just now. So why now admit it?
Armstrong: That is the best question. It's the most logical question. ... I don't know that I have a great answer. I will start my answer by saying that this is too late. It's too late for probably most people, and that's my fault. I viewed this situation as one big lie that I repeated a lot of times, and as you said, it wasn't as if I just said no and I moved off it.
Oprah: Right, you were defiant. ... You called other people liars.
Armstrong: I understand that. And while I lived through this process, especially the last two years, one year, six months, two, three months, I know the truth. The truth isn't what was out there. The truth isn't what I said, and now it's gone -- this story was so perfect for so long. And I mean that, as I try to take myself out of the situation and I look at it. You overcome the disease, you win the Tour de France seven times. You have a happy marriage, you have children. I mean, it's just this mythic perfect story, and it wasn't true.
Oprah: And that wasn't true.
Armstrong: And that was not true on a lot of levels.
Oprah: Was it hard to live up to that picture that was created?
Armstrong: Impossible. Certainly I'm a flawed character, as I well know, and I couldn't do that. But what we see now and what's out there now.
Oprah: But didn't you help paint that picture?
Armstrong: Of course, yeah, I did. ... And a lot of people did. Listen, all the
fault and all the blame here falls on me. But behind that picture and behind that story is momentum. Whether it's fans or whether it's the media or whether it's -- it just gets going. And I lost myself in all of that. I'm sure there would be other people that couldn't handle it, but I certainly couldn't handle it, and I was used to controlling everything in my life. I controlled every outcome in my life.
Oprah: You said to me earlier you don't think it was possible to win without doping?
Armstrong: Not in that generation, and I'm not here to talk about others in that generation. It's been well-documented. I didn't invent the culture, but I didn't try to stop the culture, and that's my mistake, and that's what I have to be sorry for, and that's what something and the sport is now paying the price because of that. So I am sorry for that. I don't think -- I didn't have access to anything else that nobody else did.
Oprah: The United States Anti-Doping agency, USADA, issued a 164-page report which I've read. The CEO, Travis Tygart said in the statement that you
and the U.S. Postal Service cycling team pulled off the most, in his words, sophisticated professionalized and successful doping program that the sport has ever seen. Was it?
Armstrong: No. No. And I think he actually said that all of sport has ever seen. Oprah, it wasn't. It definitely was professional, and it was definitely smart, if you can call it that, but it was very conservative, very risk-averse, very aware of what mattered. One race mattered for me. But to say that that program was bigger than the East German doping program in the '70s and '80s? That's not true.
More on ESPN.com
By force of lifetime habit, Lance Armstrong showed Thursday night with Oprah Winfrey that he still is trying to shape his own narrative, writes Bonnie D. Ford. Story
Had Lance Armstrong been willing to cooperate with USADA in May, it is possible he could have received only a six-month suspension, writes T.J. Quinn. Story
How do you achieve true contrition when you've hedged your inspirational victory over cancer with a well-funded and well-orchestrated campaign to hide the truth? You don't, writes Tim Keown. Story
Throughout his career, Lance Armstrong has been able to exert unbelievable control over the media and the flow of information, writes Matthew Beaudin of VeloNews.com. Story
Oprah: What was the culture? Can you explain the culture to us?
Armstrong: It's hard to get into that without, and, again, I don't want to -- I don't want to accuse anybody else. I don't want to necessarily talk about anybody else. I made my decisions. They are my mistakes, and I am sitting here today to
acknowledge that and to say I'm sorry for that. The culture was what it was.
Oprah: Was everybody doing it? That's what we've heard. Was everybody doing it?
Armstrong: I didn't know everybody. I didn't live and train with everybody. I didn't race with everybody. I can't say that. There will be people that say that. There will be people that say, 'OK, there are 200 guys on the tour, I can tell you five guys that didn't, and those are the five heroes, and they're right.
Oprah: Last fall, USADA published details of how some of the United States Postal Service cycling team, and former team captain, Lance Armstrong,
conducted their years' long doping scheme.
Armstrong: I think there were parts of this scheme that were run
like a mafia. Back in the day we had code words for certain things, and we had secret phones, secret code words. It was either Poe or Edgar Allen Poe, which was kind of -- that was the code name for EPO.
Oprah: Were you blood doping in Stage 11 of the 2000 Tour (De France)? Stopping at a hotel, Tyler Hamilton said you stopped at a hotel.
Armstrong: I'm confused on the stages, but certainly that was in the middle of the tour.
Oprah: Tyler Hamilton also said there would be times when you all were injecting EPO in a camper or in a tent, and right outside the fans would be outside, and you all would be dumping the syringes in coke cans. Is that true?
Armstrong: I didn't read Tyler's book. I don't necessarily remember that. But I'm certainly not going to say that's a lie, that's not true, but ...
Oprah: I'd like you to walk me through it. Were there pill deliveries, and blood in secret refrigerators? How did it work?
Armstrong: Oh, we'd need a long time. We'd need a
long time. ... I viewed it as very simple. I mean, you had things that were oxygen-boosting drugs, for lack of a better word, or way to describe it that were incredibly beneficial for endurance sports, whether it's cycling, or running, or whatever. And that's all you needed. My cocktail, so to speak, was EPO -- but not a lot -- transfusions and testosterone. Which, in a weird way, I almost justified because of my history, obviously, with having testicular cancer and losing, I thought, surely, I'm running low.
Oprah: Were you afraid of getting caught?
Armstrong: No. Drug testing has changed. It's evolved. In the old days they tested at the races. They didn't come to your house. They didn't come to your training camps. They tested you at the race. That's shifted a lot. Now the emphasis of the testing, which is right, is out-of-competition testing.
Oprah: Would you take several days before? You take it and give yourself enough time for it to move through your system?
Armstrong: Yeah, it's a question of scheduling. I know that sounds weird, but two things changed this. The shift to out-of-competition testing and the biological passport. And it really worked. I'm no fan of UCI, but they implemented the bio passport.
Oprah: The 2012 USADA report says expert examination established that the likelihood of Armstrong's blood val use from the 2009 and 2010 Tour De France occurring naturally is less than one-in-a-million. The report went on to say, this is a telling argument consistent with blood doping.
Armstrong: It's the only thing in that whole report that really upset me. Obviously, it upset me. But the accusation and the alleged proof that they say that I doped after my comeback, is not true. The last time I crossed the line, that line, was 2005.
Oprah: So when you placed third in 2009, you did not dope?
Armstrong: Again, the biological passport was in place, and it was.
Oprah: OK, does that include blood transfusions?
Oprah: So you did not do blood transfusions in 2009?
Armstrong: Absolutely not.
Oprah: You did no doping or blood transfusions in 2010?
Armstrong: 2009 and 2010, those are the two years I did the tour. Absolutely not.
Oprah: So 2005 is the last time?
Armstrong: Absolutely true.
Oprah: The USADA report stated the evidence is also clear that Armstrong had ultimate control over not only his own personal drug use, which was extensive, but also over the doping culture of his team. Were you the one in charge?
Armstrong: Um, well, I was the top rider. I was the leader of the team. I wasn't the manager, the general manager, the director. ... Look, I was the leader of the team, and the leader of any team leads by example. There was never a direct order or a directive to say you have to do this if you want to do the tour, if you want to be on the team. That never happened. It was a competitive time. We were all grown men. We all made our choices, but there were people on the team that chose not to.
Oprah: Were you a bully?
Armstrong: Yeah, yeah, I was a bully. ... I was a bully in the sense that I tried to control the narrative, and if I didn't like what somebody said, and for whatever reasons in my own head whether I viewed that as somebody being disloyal or a friend turning on you or whatever, I tried to control that. Say that's a lie, they're liars.
Oprah: Is that your nature when somebody says something that you don't like, you go on the attack?
Armstrong: My entire life. My entire life.
Oprah: How important was winning to you? Would you do anything to win at all costs?
Armstrong: Basically, basically. Winning was important. Winning was important. I still like to win, but I view it a little differently now.
Oprah: So you've been quoted as saying we had one goal, one ambition, and that was to win the greatest bike race in the world, and not just to win it once, but to keep on winning it, and to keep on winning it, meant you had to keep on using banned substances to do it?
Armstrong: Yes, but, and I'm not sure that this is an acceptable answer, but that's like saying we have to have air in our tires or we have to have water in our bottles. That was, in my view, part of the job.
Oprah: Are you saying that's how common it was?
Armstrong: Again, my view was that it was. Others will have to attest to that. Again, I don't want to accuse anybody. I don't want to make any excuses for me, but that was my view, and I made those decisions.
Oprah: Are you saying to me that you did not expect or require other top riders, your key guys, to dope in order to reach that team's goal? Would that be your same response today?
Armstrong: No, no.
Armstrong: My responses on most of these things are going to be different today.
Oprah: You and I both know that fame just magnifies whoever you really are. So if you're a jerk, you're a bigger jerk. If you're a humanitarian, you're a bigger humanitarian. So what was going on with you during that time? What did that do?
Armstrong: I think, and I don't know if you pulled those two words out of the air, jerk and humanitarian, I'd say I was both, and we saw both, and now we're seeing certainly more of the jerk part than the activist, the humanitarian, philanthropist, the leader of the foundation. We're seeing that
now. I am flawed, deeply flawed. I think we all have our flaws, and if the magnifying glass is normally this week, I made it this week because of my actions and because of my words, and because of my attitude, and my defiance, and I'm paying the price for it. And that I deserve this. I don't look around and go, 'Hey, Oprah, hey, I am screwed here.' Were there days early on when I said that? Absolutely. Those days are fewer and fewer and farther and farther between. Listen, I deserve it.
Oprah: What was for you the flaw or flaws that made you willing to risk it all?
Armstrong: I think this just ruthless desire to win. Win at all costs, truly. Serves me well on the bike, served me well during the disease, but the level that it went to, for whatever reason, is a flaw. Then that defiance, that attitude, that arrogance, you cannot deny it. You watch that clip, that's an arrogant person. I go, look at this arrogant prick. I say that today. It's not good.
Oprah: When you look at (your speech after winning your seventh Tour, in which you call out the skeptics of cycling and seem to rub the win in the faces of those who came out against you) do you feel embarrassed? Do you feel ashamed? Do you feel humble? Tell me what you feel?
Armstrong: I'm definitely embarrassed. Listen, that was the last time I won the Tour de France. That was my last day. I retired immediately after that. That's what you leave with? You can leave with better than that, Lance. That was lame.
Oprah: Was there happiness in winning when you knew that you were taking these banned substances?
Armstrong: There was more happiness in the process, in the build, in the preparation. The winning was almost phoned in. Again, I don't want this issue of performance enhancers to ... again, to me, that was we're going to pump up our tires. We're going to put water in our bottles, and oh, yeah, that too is going to happen. That was it.
Oprah: Was it a big deal to you? Did it feel wrong?
Armstrong: At the time? No.
Oprah: It did not even feel wrong?
Armstrong: No. Scary.
Oprah: Did you feel bad about it?
Armstrong: No. Even scarier.
Oprah: Did you feel in any way that you were cheating?
Armstrong: No. The scariest.
Oprah: You did not feel that you were cheating taking banned drugs?
Armstrong: At the time, no. And I look up, I had this exercise because I kept hearing ... I'm a drug cheat. I'm a cheat. I'm a cheater. And I went in and just looked up the definition of cheat. ... And the definition of cheat is to gain an advantage on a rival or foe that they don't have. I didn't view it that way. I viewed it as a level playing field.
Oprah: But you knew that you were held to a higher standard. You're Lance Armstrong.
Armstrong: I knew that, and of course hindsight is perfect. I know it a thousand times more now. I didn't know what I had. Look at the fallout.
Oprah: What do you mean by you didn't know? I don't think people will understand what you're saying.
Armstrong: Well, I didn't understand the magnitude of that following, and we see it now because this is why it is such ...
Oprah: That's going to be hard for people to believe. When we met a week ago, you said I didn't realize it was this big. I was like, 'How could you not know?' How could you not know it's big? Presidents are calling. You're dating rock stars. Everywhere you go.
Armstrong: You asked me the question, and I said I didn't know, and I didn't. But the important thing is that I'm beginning to understand that, and I'm understanding it not because I see clips and we're talking about this. But I see the anger in people.
Oprah: Anger and disappointment.
Armstrong: And betrayal. ... And it's all there. These are people that supported me, believed in me. Believed me. Not just believed in me, but believed what I was saying. And they have every right to feel betrayed, and it's my fault. ... I will spend the rest of my life -- some people are gone forever. But I'll spend the rest of my life trying to earn back trust and apologize to people for the rest of my life.
Oprah: You said time and again in dozens of interviews that you never failed a test. Do you have a different answer today?
It's a major flaw, and it's a guy who expected to get whatever he wanted and to control every outcome. And it's inexcusable. When I say that there are people that will hear this and will never forgive me, I understand that. I do. I have started that process. I think all of this is a process for me. One of the steps of that process is to speak to those people directly, and just say to them that I am sorry, and I was wrong. You were right.
Armstrong: No, I mean, I didn't fail a test. Some stuff was retroactively tested.
Oprah: Yeah, from 1999.
Armstrong: Technically, yes, then those retroactively, I failed those. But the hundreds and hundreds of tests that I took, I passed them, and I passed them because there was nothing in the system.
Oprah: You made a donation to UCI and you said that that donation was about helping their anti-doping efforts. ... Obviously, it was not. Why did you make that donation?
Armstrong: Because they asked me to. There was no deal -- this is impossible for me to answer this question and have anybody believe it -- it was not in exchange for any cover-up. And, again, I am not a fan of the UCI. I have every incentive to sit here and tell you, yes, that's right. They're all crooked. Are there things that were a little shady? That was not one. They called and said they didn't have a lot of money. I was retired. I had money. They said would you consider a donation, and I said sure.
Oprah: What about the story that Emma O'Reilly tells about the cortisone (which Armstrong tested positive for at the 1999 Tour de France) and you having the cortisone backdated (by a team doctor, who claimed Armstrong needed treatment for saddle sores?) Is that true?
Armstrong: That is true. ... Hey, she's one of these people that I have to apologize to. She's one of these people that got run over, got bullied. But I have reached out to her, and tried to make those amends on my own, but it ...
Oprah: This is what doesn't make any sense. When people were saying things ... you would then go on the attack for them. You're suing people, and you know that they're telling the truth. What is that?
Armstrong: It's a major flaw, and it's a guy who expected to get whatever he wanted and to control every outcome. And it's inexcusable. When I say that there are people that will hear this and will never forgive me, I understand that. I do. I have started that process. I think all of this is a process for me. One of the steps of that process is to speak to those people directly, and just say to them that I am sorry, and I was wrong. You were right.
Oprah: Have you called Betsy Andreu (the wife of Armstrong's former teammate, Frankie Andreu, who was one of the first to speak out about Armstrong's doping while visiting him in an Indiana hospital in 1996)?
Oprah: Did she take your call?
Armstrong: She did.
Oprah: Was Betsy telling the truth about the Indiana hospital? Overhearing you in 1996?
Armstrong: I'm not going to take that on. I'm laying down on that one.
Oprah: Was Betsy lying?
Armstrong: I'm just not ... I'm going to put that one down. She asked me, and I asked her not to talk about it.
Oprah: Is it well with the two of you? Have you made peace?
Armstrong: Oh, no. ... Because they've been hurt too badly, and a 40-minute conversation isn't enough.
Oprah: If you would go back and look at all the things and tapes that you've said over the years about Betsy.
Armstrong: No, and I think she'd be OK with me saying this, but I'm going to take the liberty to say it, and I said, 'Listen, I called you crazy. I called you a bitch, I called you all these things, but I never called you fat.' Because that's ...
Oprah: That's one of the things she said.
Armstrong: She thought I said you were a fat crazy bitch. And I said, 'Betsy, I never said you were fat.'
Oprah: This is what's interesting to me. If a person is accusing you, and they say three things that are true but one of them is out of order and not true, do you then take that to mean the whole thing's not true?
Armstrong: Oh, yeah, that's it. You're out.
Oprah: That's how you operate?
Armstrong: Well, because that's ... three to one wouldn't be accurate. That's a score. ... I know. If they said 10 things and two of them were right and eight of them were false, I figured I had every right to go after them. ... But if one of those things is that Lance Armstrong doped to win the Tour de France, they win. You can't overcome that.
Oprah: Emma O'Reilly, you actually ... I watched the tape several times. You sort of under your breath, but you implied the whore word. You used the whore word. How do you feel about that today?
Armstrong: Not good. ... No, no, I was, I was just on the attack, Oprah. That's just what it ... territory being threatened, team being threatened, reputation being threatened. I'm going to attack.
Oprah: Do you regret now coming back (in 2009)?
Armstrong: We wouldn't be sitting here if I didn't come back.
Oprah: Many people think that the real tipping point was Floyd Landis and his decision to come forward and confess (to doping and allege Armstrong, his former mentor, had done the same).
Armstrong: I'd agree with that. ... I might back it up a little and talk about the comeback. I think the comeback didn't sit well with Floyd.
Oprah: Do you remember where you were when you heard that Floyd, your former teammate, protege, was going to talk?
Armstrong: I was in a hotel room at the Tour of California when actually, Floyd had been sending me these text messages and said, 'I recorded it. I videoed everything. I'm going to put it on YouTube.' And I kept getting these messages, and I'm like finally I said, 'Look, man, do what you got to do, but just leave me alone.' He didn't go that route. He didn't go the YouTube route, but he went to the Wall Street Journal with the story.
Oprah: Did you rebuff it? Would you say that you rebuffed Floyd?
Armstrong: I rebuffed him after he came out. Up until that point, I actually supported him. When he tested positive, I supported him. When he went on trial, I supported him. And even afterwards, I supported him.
Oprah: Did you rebuff him after he was stripped of his tour win (in 2006)?
To go back to that moment, I would say, 'Guys, give me three days. I'm going to call -- again, this is in hindsight, I wish I could go do it, but I can't -- let me call some people. Let me call my family. Let me call my mother. Let me call my sponsors. Let me call my foundation and tell them what I'm going to do, and I'll be right there. I wish I could do that. But I can't.
Lance Armstrong, on response to USADA investigation last year
Armstrong: No. Well, we didn't give him a spot on the team, which he wanted. But that's not necessarily entirely my decision, but if that's a blowoff, yeah. I tried to keep him on 'my team.' Of course you would, because, you know, what others don't.
Oprah: Because he knew what others didn't know, yes?
Armstrong: Right. But to say that I shunned him or I put him out, no, I didn't view it that way. Obviously, I think he did. But I also think he felt like the sport did. He felt like the sport just didn't want to take him back.
Oprah: So that was the tipping point, and your comeback was also a tipping point. Do you regret now coming back?
Armstrong: I do. We wouldn't be sitting here if I didn't come back.
Oprah: You would have gotten away with it?
Armstrong: It's impossible to say. I had much better chances, but I didn't.
Oprah: Did you not always think that this day was coming? Not that you and I would be sitting here, but did you not think that, first of all, third law of motion, what you put out is going to come back. Did you not think that you'd be found out at some point, especially since so many people knew?
Armstrong: Well, I just assumed the stories would continue for a long time. ... This wasn't an issue of news stories or interviews. That's not why we're sitting here. We're sitting here because there was a two-year criminal federal investigation (by the U.S. Department of Justice, a case that was dropped in February by federal prosecutors with no explanation) of me, athletes, everybody involved in the story was called in, subpoenaed, deposed. There is a man with a gun and a badge, and the consequences are serious. ... Then USADA started. Again, with the same, not equal pressure, but similar pressure. Guys were offered deals. Fine, that's the way it works. But that's why this is out. I assumed that the stories and the accusations would continue forever.
Oprah: When the department of justice just dropped that case and nobody knows why, I have to ask you, did you have any influence in that whatsoever?
Armstrong: No, none. ... That's very difficult to influence.
Oprah: When they dropped the case, did you think, now, finally over? Done? Victory?
Armstrong: That's hard to define victory, but I thought I was out of the woods.
Oprah: What was your reaction when you learned that USADA was going to pick up the case (last year) and pursue their own investigation of you (which Armstrong originally filed a lawsuit to block)?
Armstrong: Great question. My reaction was the same that it always had been. You know, coming in on my territory. I'm going to fight back. Oprah, I'd do anything. I'd do anything to go back to that day.
Armstrong: Because I wouldn't fight. I wouldn't sue them. I'd listen. I'd do a couple things first. I'd say, 'Guys, granted I cannot deny I was treated differently than the other guys. That's OK. I was bigger, I had won more races, et cet. But I was treated differently.'
Oprah: Treated differently how?
Armstrong: Treated differently in the sense that I wasn't approached at the same time as the other riders, and there were lots of riders that were approached. They approached them and asked them to come in and talk about the culture of cycling and what they did or didn't do. And, of course, with that they were going to be penalized. They gathered all of the subpoenas, and the affidavits and the evidence.
Oprah: Twenty-six people, including 11 of your former teammates, testified.
Armstrong: Then they came to me and said, 'OK, what are you going to do?' To go back to that moment, I would say, 'Guys, give me three days.' I'm going to call -- again, this is in hindsight, I wish I could go do it, but I can't -- 'Let me call some people. Let me call my family. Let me call my mother. Let me call my sponsors. Let me call my foundation and tell them what I'm going to do, and I'll be right there.' I wish I could do that. But I can't.
Oprah: So in the future, you can't take that back, you can't go back there. Will you cooperate with USADA to help them clear up the sport of cycling?
Armstrong: Look, I love cycling. I really do. And I say that knowing that I sound like people will see me as somebody that has disrespected the event, the sport, the color yellow, the jersey. I did.
Oprah: You abused your power.
Armstrong: Yeah. And I disrespected the rules, regardless of what anybody says about the generation, that was my choice. But if we can, and I stand on no moral platform here, certainly not my place to say, 'Hey, guys, let's clean up cycling.' If there was not effort to, if there was a truth and reconciliation commission, again, I can't call for that. I've got no cred. If they have it, and I'm invited, I'll be the first man at the door.
Oprah: When you heard that George Hincapie had been called and testified and had spoken, did you feel that was the last card in this deck of cards? Did you feel that that was the last straw?
Armstrong: Well, my fate was sealed. I think for those people that were my supporters who I'm assuming have left, he was the -- they could have heard anybody say anything, and if George didn't say it, they would say, 'Well, George didn't say it, so I'm sticking with Lance.' I don't fault George at all. There was a lot of pressure with that. But, yeah, listen, George is the most credible voice in all of this.
He did all seven tours. I knew him since I was 16. We practically lived together. We trained together every day. And, for the record, we're still great friends. We still talk once a week. I don't fault George Hincapie. But George knows this story better than anybody.
Information from ESPN.com's Darren Rovell and The Associated Press was used in this report.