By JOHN LEICESTER
AP Sports Columnist
(AP) - ARMSTRONG'S BIG TEST: Fallen sports icon Lance Armstrong's "no-holds-barred interview" with Oprah Winfrey is airing Thursday night on her OWN network. AP Sports Columnist John Leicester is watching the broadcast and giving his impressions of the interview as it unfolds:
The whole Armstrong narrative we've been fed _ and that reporters have been feeding _ for over a decade is unraveling before our eyes in this interview, which makes it riveting to watch. Winfrey isn't soft-gloving Armstrong as she did Marion Jones in an interview in 2008. She's well prepared, with a good grasp of the details. The new narrative Armstrong is telling us is that he was a long-time doper who saw taking drugs as just part of the job of winning bike races. He bullied critics. "We sued so many people." Again, these facts are not news to people who have followed his story and been on the receiving end of his lawyers' writs. But to hear it all from the horse's mouth is very dramatic. "I will spend the rest of my life trying to earn back trust." Given the shocking scale of this fraud, one lifetime may not be enough.
SIGHS OF RELIEF IN SWITZERLAND:
The sport's bosses at the International Cycling Union will be breathing a sigh of relief. The big questions have always been not only how did Armstrong get away with doping but also whether he paid cycling's powerbrokers to cover up tests, to look the other way _ which they insist he did not. Armstrong says money he donated to the ICU to buy a drug testing machine was "not in exchange for any cover up." The ICU's bosses will also doubtless be pleased to hear Armstrong suggest that the drug testing program it uses now, based around a so-called "biological passport" that monitors riders' blood values, is a deterrent to doping. Believe it or not, Armstrong says he did not dope when he came out of retirement and rode in the Tours of 2009 and 2010. "Absolutely not."
CHEATERS ARE DELUDED:
Armstrong's words confirm what some of us who cover sports have long suspected: to dope, cheaters have to delude themselves, believe their own lies. Armstrong says that doping didn't feel wrong at the time, that he didn't feel bad about it and that he didn't feel as if he was cheating. He even had to look up the dictionary definition of cheat, he says. "I viewed it as a level playing field," he tells Winfrey. But it wasn't. For starters, not all riders doped like he did. And not all dopers take the same products or get the same performance enhancing boost from them. Basically, Armstrong seems to be telling us that not only did he dope but he also didn't let it prick his conscience.
ARMSTRONG THE HUMBLE:
Stunning to see Armstrong seemingly so humble and introspective. That was something he used to have no time for. "Introspection doesn't get you anywhere in a race," he had said in his biography, "It's not about the bike." Cynics may think that he has simply been well coached for this interview with Winfrey. But he seems to realize that his stock is at rock bottom and that he can't afford to duck and dive Winfrey with his answers. "I'm not the most believable guy in the world," he says. "I am deeply flawed."
SO MUCH FOR ALL THOSE TESTS:
Remember all that hot air Armstrong used to spout about being the most tested athlete ever? Well, turns out he never worried that he would get caught.
"No," was his simple answer when Winfrey asked him about that. That will come as a shock to his supporters _ are there many left? _ who bought Armstrong's line that not testing positive actually proved something. The line from sports now is that drug tests are far more reliable than they used to be when Armstrong and his peers were injecting the kitchen sink and getting away with it. Still, it's downright discouraging to think that testing was so ineffective. So what about all the athletes in the all the others sports? This admission that cheating wasn't that difficult should be a wake-up call: testing must improve.
THE TRUTH IS OUT:
"One big lie," says Armstrong, putting the final nail into his myth. To their credit, Armstrong and Winfrey haven't beaten around the bush. From the get-go, we hear Armstrong say "yes" _ he doped for all seven of his Tour de France victories. Blood doping, the blood booster EPO, human growth hormone, testosterone _ the panoply of drugs and methods that many riders used when cycling became chemical warfare in the 1990s. Armstrong is being surprisingly candid. Few will dispute that doping was part of the culture in cycling. But his critics say Armstrong perpetuated it.