If Lance Armstrong was going to come clean then the time was long ago. Not, as he chose, in a two-part special with Oprah. Much has been made of Armstrong’s long-overdue confession with America’s most watched talk show host. It’s been described as a bid to secure his long-term future [Armstrong wasn’t paid for the interview, but it was suggested that by confessing, he could open the way to a reduction in his lifetime ban] or as some kind of redemption and rehabilitation strategy. If it was, he failed.
If Armstrong wanted a path back to competition then his best strategy was to remain silent. I’m not condoning it, or suggesting that he shouldn’t have come clean, but the timing and manner of his admission were all wrong. The right thing to do would have been to own up to his cheating when the rumours first started to surface. There was even a window when the USADA investigation gathered pace – he could have avoided the high-profile publicity, the 1000 page report and the mass media attention.
But, given that he repeatedly denied he’d doped, and went as far as to sue people who were actually telling the truth, Armstrong’s best strategy was to stick to the approach he adopted when the USADA labelled him a serial cheat – to stop denying he had cheated and say nothing. Given that most people already believed he was guilty, most people would have forgotten about him in a matter of months.
Sure, there would always have been a cloud hanging over him, but he could always have truthfully repeated the mantra, ‘I never failed a test’. This was, after all, the fact, if not the truth. Had Armstrong continued to work behind the scenes for his Livestrong foundation he could, in time, have reestablished himself in the role of cancer survivor and charity fundraiser and reentered the public arena. Silence would have enabled him to lobby the sporting powers for a reduction of his life ban and re-introduction to competitive triathlon and road racing in 2020 as an age-grouper. In 7 years, likely only the hardcore cyclists will remember him, and nobody would criticize his establishment of a foundation that has raised hundreds of millions to inspire and support people affected by cancer.
Armstrong’s very public admission, however, will likely cost him his reported $100m fortune, as well as his chances of ever competing again, and label him not only a cheat, but a serial liar. This is now what his legacy will be.