Lance Armstrong's 'risky' interview strategy

Risky. That’s how our reporter Lance Williams describes Lance Armstrong’s decision to do a “no-holds-barred” interview with Oprah Winfrey. Williams has written extensively about investigations into the cyclist’s alleged use of banned substances.

The announcement that Armstrong had agreed to the interview came five days after The New York Times reported that he was “considering publicly admitting that he used banned performance-enhancing drugs and blood transfusions during his cycling career.” According to The Times, Armstrong viewed the admission as a necessary step toward resuming his athletic career. Last year, Armstrong was stripped of his seven Tour de France titles and barred for life from competing in Olympic events.

We spoke with Williams about the cyclist’s decision to talk with Winfrey.

Q: Why is this a risky strategy?

A: Armstrong is facing litigation as a result of his claim that he never used performance-enhancing drugs. His attorneys would tell him that he faces legal exposure by admitting to using performance-enhancing drugs. He can’t help himself by admitting facts that opposing lawyers would otherwise have to prove.

I can’t understand what he’s trying to accomplish by doing the interview. It’s an interesting move, and a rare one. 

Q: Has any athlete in a similar situation benefited from making such a public admission?

A: Jason Giambi, the former Oakland Athletics and New York Yankees infielder, admitted to using performance-enhancing drugs in the BALCO case, made a limited apology to fans, and then his career went on and people forgave him. But Giambi never faced the legal issues Armstrong is facing.

Q: What’s the best outcome for Armstrong for such an interview?

A: Setting aside the legal issues, perhaps the interview will remind people that he’s a human being who has done some good things. But there is so much in an interview – if it’s a real interview – that would not be good for him.

Q: Beyond the obvious question about whether he used banned substances, what do you hope Armstrong will address during the interview?

A: Armstrong has been accused of trying to bully and intimidate anyone who claimed that he used performance-enhancing drugs. I am really interested to hear what he says about that.

Armstrong’s interview will air Jan. 17 at 9 p.m. on the Oprah Winfrey Network.

This interview has been edited and condensed.

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