Will Lance Armstrong confess to Oprah – or is it too risky?
Interview muddied by extraordinary claim that cyclist once offered $250,000 ‘donation' to doping watchdog
THURSDAY 17 January is a date for your diary. That's the day Oprah Winfrey will broadcast what she promises will be a "no holds barred" interview with drug cheat Lance Armstrong.
Since his spectacular fall from grace last year, the American cyclist has refused to talk about the doping scandal that led to his being labelled a "serial cheat". But Winfrey says that Armstrong "will address the alleged doping scandal, years of accusations of cheating and charges of lying about the use of performance-enhancing drugs throughout his storied cycling career".
The 90-minute interview will be aired on Winfrey's OWN network and live-streamed at Oprah.com. And it won't be the first time a disgraced sports star has opened their heart to Oprah.
In 2008 former American sprinter Marion Jones sat on Winfrey's couch and insisted she had "never knowingly" taken performance-enhancing drugs before the 2000 Sydney Olympics. Jones, who won five medals at the Games, had spent six months in jail for lying to federal investigators about her drug use and her involvement in a cheque fraud.
The interview with Jones was believed to have helped many Americans forgive her for her transgressions, and Armstrong will doubtless be hopeful a "couch confessional" will allow him to reconnect with the American public.
But before that happens, Armstrong will have to endure more uncomfortable allegations about his past behaviour. In a 60 Minutes special to be aired in the US today, the head of the US Anti-Doping Agency [USADA] will claim that Armstrong attempted to make a $250,000 "donation" to the organisation "sometime" around 2004.
USADA chief executive Travis Tygart told the documentary team that he couldn't believe Armstrong would make such a "totally inappropriate" offer. "I was stunned," Tygart says in the interview. "It was a clear conflict of interest for USADA. We had no hesitation in rejecting that offer."
Asked if it was true the donation was in the region of $250,000, Tygart replies: "It was in that ballpark."
The allegations have been swiftly rejected by Armstrong's lawyer, Tim Herman. "No truth to that story," Herman told USA Today. "First Lance heard of it was today [Tuesday]. He never made any such contribution or suggestion."
Shortly after the announcement of her exclusive interview with Armstrong, Winfrey tweeted: "Looking forward to this conversation with lance armstrong''.
She's not the only one - though just how confessional Armstrong decides to be remains to be seen. If he comes clean and admits to the widespread doping, he could end up in court.
"Armstrong runs a serious risk of opening himself up to fraud claims by companies that sponsored him and others," said Brian Socolow, a New York-based attorney, when asked about the impact of any possible confession. "It's a big risk for Armstrong to admit guilt."