Los Angeles – Fans and critics of Lance Armstrong will be watching for the breadth of the shamed cyclist's doping admission and the depth of his contrition when his interview with Oprah Winfrey is aired.
Armstrong's first interview since he was shorn last year of the seven Tour de France titles that helped make him a cycling icon was recorded on Monday in Austin, Texas.
Winfrey, a US television icon known for empathetic celebrity interviews, said she believed “the most important questions” were asked and that Armstrong provided answers “that people around the world have been waiting to hear”.
What remained tantalisingly unknown was Armstrong's demeanor in the interview, which will run in two parts, on Thursday and Friday on Winfrey's OWN cable network and website (Friday and Saturday at 7.30pm on TLC in SA). The first segment begins at 4am SA time Friday.
Just as word leaked Monday that Armstrong admitted using performance-enhancing drugs, snippets of information trickled out on the eve of the telecast.
The New York Times reported that Armstrong “teared up and cried” during the interview, which Winfrey has characterised as “intense”.
The newspaper's source didn't say what caused Armstrong to lose his composure.
The New York Daily News cited an anonymous source as saying Armstrong “does not seem sorry” about his choice to use banned drugs, while the Washington Post said Armstrong challenges the US Anti-Doping Agency's portrayal of him as vindictive.
Winfrey said that she felt Armstrong was “thoughtful” and “serious” in his approach but added she would leave it up to viewers to judge whether he was remorseful.
“I would rather people make their own decisions about whether he was contrite or not,” she said.
Armstrong's choice of Winfrey as a confessor is a stunning reversal for a man who was notoriously aggressive in denying doping accusations for more than a decade, vilifying those who had the temerity to challenge him.
Winfrey confirmed Tuesday to “CBS This Morning” that Armstrong admitted to using performance-enhancing drugs.
But it wasn't yet clear how far that admission goes in addressing the specific violations outlined last year in Usada's case against him.
Usada produced a devastating report, built in part on testimony of former team-mates, putting Armstrong at the center of the most sophisticated doping program sport has seen.
Specifically he was charged with using banned substances or methods including the blood-booster EPO, blood transfusions, testosterone, corticosteroids and masking agents, trafficking in those substances and in administering or attempting to administer them to others.
The International Cycling Union ratified his ban and the loss of all of his competition results from August 1998 – erasing the record seven Tour de France titles he won from 1999-2005.
Cycling was plunged into crisis, with officials accused of turning a blind eye, or even colluding in doping.
The consequences for Armstrong were stark. Sponsors including sportswear giant Nike fled and Armstrong left the board of the Livestrong cancer charity he created.
Thursday's interview is widely seen as Armstrong's first step on a path that could eventually bring him in from the cold as a corporate partner and perhaps even as a competitor in elite triathlons from which he is now banned.
Going down such a road also carries risk, with the belated confession potentially opening Armstrong up to litigation and the possible loss of millions of dollars or even criminal charges.
“We expect Lance to be completely truthful and forthcoming in his interview and with all of us in the cancer community,” Livestrong said in a statement posted in the blog section of the charity's website.
In cycling, opinion was divided on whether an Armstrong admission at this point could have a healing effect on the sport.
British star Bradley Wiggins said such a moment would be “a great day for a lot of people and quite a sad day for the sport in some ways”.
Compatriot Nicole Cooke, however, said it was too late for Armstrong to redeem himself.
“When Lance cries on Oprah later this week and she passes him a tissue, spare a thought for all of those genuine people who walked away with no reward – just shattered dreams,” Cooke said.
The interview has already been spoofed, with a Taiwanese news group releasing an animation of Armstrong turning into a vampire during his “interview” – against a backdrop of an empty trophy case.
However revelatory it turns out to be, the World Anti-Doping Agency said Armstrong's TV confession would do nothing to reduce his punishment.
“Only when Mr. Armstrong makes a full confession under oath – and tells the anti-doping authorities all he knows about doping activities – can any legal and proper process for him to seek any reopening or reconsideration of his lifetime ban commence,” Wada director general David Howman said.– Sapa-AFP