Lance Armstrong admitted in the second half of his highly touted interview with Oprah Winfrey that the most humbling moment in his fall from athletic superstar grace was the moment in November 2012 when he severed all ties with Livestrong, the cancer awareness charity he helped found.
“The foundation was like my sixth child,” Armstrong told Oprah, becoming visibly upset.
Livestrong raised nearly $ 500 million for cancer awareness since 1997 and sold over 80 million yellow Livestrong bracelets.
“That was the most humbling moment,” he said. “The one person I didn’t think would leave was the foundation.”
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In October 2012, he stepped down as chairman of Livestrong but remained on the board. The next month he and the foundation severed all ties. “It was the best thing for the organization, but it hurt like hell,” he said.
Armstrong also lost tens of millions of dollars in sponsorships from companies such as Nike and Anheuser-Busch.
In the second part of the interview, the more defiant side of Armstrong’s personality started to come out. Though he admitted that he was in the wrong, he felt that his lifetime ban from competitive sports was unfair. While other cyclers who admitted to doping got a six-month suspension, he was forever banned from everything, even running the Austin 10K.
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“I deserve to be punished,” he said. “I’m not sure I deserve a death penalty.”
In the first part of the interview, which aired Thursday night, Armstrong admitted to using a variety of banned substances, including testosterone and the performance-enhancing drug EPO, in order to get his seven straight Tour de France victories.
Though he had long denied any kind of doping, and pursued legal action against his accusers, Armstrong has since been stripped of his Tour de France victories, lost all his results since 1998 and even lost the bronze medal he won at the 2000 Olympic Games in Sydney.
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He told Winfrey the so-called inspirational aspect of his story — overcoming cancer and going on to win the Tour de France seven times — provided him incentive to continue the lie, even as it got bigger and bigger.
“This story was so perfect for so long,” Armstrong said. “It’s just this mythic perfect story and it wasn’t true.”
While Armstrong admitted to doping to achieve his Tour de France wins, he adamantly denied forcing other people on his team to dope and he also denied any doping after 2005. He said his performances in the races in 2009 and 2010 were totally clean.
“My cocktail, so to speak, was EPO, but not a lot, transfusions and testosterone,” Armstrong told Winfrey. “Which in a weird way I justified because of my history of testicular cancer… Surely I’m running low.”
Reaction to Armstrong’s admissions are decidedly negative on social media, but it certainly made for an active discussion topic. An estimated 210,000 tweets were written related to Armstrong on Thursday night.
The first part of Winfrey’s interview with Armstrong proved to be a ratings success for OWN, attracting a total of 4.3 million viewers over two airings. That made it OWN’s biggest ratings night ever, although the numbers were still short of the audience Winfrey was drawing during the last year of her syndicated talk show.
The interview was also live-streamed on Oprah.com, where it had 600,000 streams.