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David Walsh: Oprah Armstrong interview ‘did not go nearly far enough’

By Andrew Pugh

  • Armstrong admits taking performance-enhancing drugs during all seven of his Tour de France victories
  • Walsh: 'Interview was 'fine but didn't go nearly far enough'
  • Sunday Times was the 'only newspaper that consistently asked questions'
  • 'I was a journalist being paid to do what I did', says Walsh
Sunday Times chief sports reporter and British Journalism Awards journalist of the year David Walsh believes Oprah Winfrey’s highly-anticipated interview with Lance Armstrong “did not go nearly far enough”.

Last night Armstrong for the first time admitted taking performance-enhancing drugs during all seven of his Tour de France victories after years of denials.

The 41-year-old Texan told the chat show host that he had used the blood-boosting agent EPO, as well as taking testosterone, human growth hormone, cortisone and blood doping.

At the time of his drug-taking, said Armstrong, he did not feel it was wrong.

He said he did not feel bad about taking performance-enhancing drugs, nor did he feel it was cheating, as he was creating a level playing field with other riders who took drugs.

“I looked up the definition of a cheat: to gain an advantage,” he said. “I didn't view it that way. I viewed it as a level playing field.”

Credit: Reuters

But he said he had now changed his opinion, telling her:

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I'll spend the rest of my life trying to earn back trust and trying to apologise to people. For the rest of my life.

I see the anger in people. And betrayal. It's all there. These are people that supported me, believed in me. They have every right to feel betrayed. And it's my fault.

I will spend the rest of my life trying to earn back trust and apologise to people.

I made my decisions. They are my mistake. I am sitting here today to acknowledge that and to say I'm sorry for that. I deserve this.

He added: "I'm happier today than I was then."

Reacting to the interview on the BBC this morning, Walsh said:

My feeling is that the interview was fine in as far as it went, but it did not go nearly far enough, and even in as far as it went I was particularly disappointed that he didn’t admit what might be called the hospital room admission from 1996.

There’s a woman out there, Betsy Andreu, who consistently said she heard him admitting [using] banned performance enhancing drugs in 1996.

She’s been called a liar for more than 10 years and she needed Armstrong to say that she wasn’t lying and he couldn’t bring himself to do that for whatever reason, and that was a hugely disappointing part to it.

Walsh was also disappointed that Armstrong failed to “name names”.

The Sunday Times paid out £600,000 to Armstrong in 2006 over a story highlighting Armstrong’s links to doping, and is currently pursuing a £1m legal claim against the disgraced cyclist.

Walsh said the Sunday broadsheet was the “only newspaper that consistently asked questions about a guy who was probably the biggest cheat sport had ever known”.

Credit: Reuters

“To be penalised for asking these questions is reprehensible, so hopefully The Sunday Times will get its money back,” he said.

During his 13-year crusade to expose Armstrong, Walsh was the subject of personal, as recalled in this recent article for The Sunday Times magazine (£).

One example relates to the death of Walsh’s 12-year-old son John in a cycling accident on 25 June 1995. In 2004 Walsh was interviewed by the American writer Daniel Coyle for a book on Armstrong in which he was asked about his son.

“People say you love all your children equally, but I don’t think that’s true,” Walsh said. “You love them all, but differently. And this kid, I loved more than any person I’ve ever known.”

Towards the end of his book, Coyle describes the moment he brought Armstrong a draft of the manuscript:

I outline what’s in the book, mentioning that Walsh seems motivated, at least in part, by the memory of his dead son, who he said was his favourite.

Armstrong’s eyes narrow. He cracks his knuckles, one by one.

“How could he have a favourite son? That guy’s a scumbag. I’m a father of three… to say ‘my favourite son,’ that’s f*****. I’m sorry. I just hate the guy. He’s a little troll.”

His voice rises. I try to change the subject but it’s too late. He’s going.

“F****** Walsh,” he says. “F****** little troll.”

Armstrong added:

“I’ve won six tours. I’ve done everything I ever could do to prove my innocence. I have done, outside of cycling, way more than anyone in the sport. To be somebody who’s spread himself out over a lot of areas, to hopefully be somebody who people in this city, this state, this country, this world can look up to as an example. And you know what? They don’t even know who David Walsh is. And they never will. And in 20 years nobody is going to remember him. Nobody.”

Today Walsh said that on a personal level he did not want an apology from Armstrong “because I was a journalist being paid to do what I did. It was my job and I’m not looking for any thanks from anybody or anything like that. I was doing my job.

"The only concern I have is for the sources who told the truth and were vilified for it.”

One of those sources was Armstrong’s former masseuse Emma O’Reilly.

Asked by Oprah whether there was anything he wanted to say to her he replied: “Emma O'Reilly is one of these people I have to apologise to. We ran over her, we bullied her.”

The interview continued:

You sued her?

"To be honest, Oprah, we sued so many people I don't even [know]. I'm sure we did."

When people were saying things – Walsh, O'Reilly, Betsy Andreu [wife of former team-mate Frankie Andreu] and many others – you would then go on the attack for them, suing and know they were telling the truth. What is that?

"When I hear that there are people who will never believe me I understand that. One of the steps of this process is to say sorry. I was wrong, you were right.”


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