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Aside from general interest in Armstrong’s doping enterprise and the elaborate and vicious cover-up that followed, the implications of his televised confession on the sport of triathlon are pretty simple. By finally confessing, Armstrong is opening the possibility that his lifetime ban from sanctioned races will be reduced, a potential motive that was not lost on Oprah.
“A lot of people think you’re doing this interview because you want to come back to the sport,” said Winfrey during the second part of the interview, which aired on Friday night.
“If you’re asking me, ‘Do I want to compete again?’ the answer is hell yes,” replied Armstrong. “I’m a competitor. There are a lot of other things that I could do, but I can’t. With this penalty, with this punishment, I made my bed, but if there was ever a window, would I like to run the Chicago Marathon when I’m 50? I would love to do that, and I can’t.” Casual fun-runs aside, Armstrong has shown the interest and capability to make a serious impact on professional triathlon right now.
His second stint as a pro triathlete was much more serious than a casual marathon—he won major races and intended to take a shot at Ironman Hawaii, the biggest triathlon of them all. USADA’s investigation cut short Armstrong’s return to multisport, and they also have the authority to reduce his lifetime ban, which would reopen the door for Armstrong to compete in triathlon.
“I can’t lie to you, I’d love the opportunity to be able to compete, but that isn’t why I’m doing this,” said Armstrong. “Frankly, this might not be the most popular answer, but I think I deserve it. Maybe not right now, but, if you look at the situation, if you look at the culture, if you look at the sport and see the punishment… As I told you, if I could go back to that time and say, ‘Okay, you’re trading my story for a 6 month suspension,’ that’s what people got. What everybody got. So I got a death penalty and they got 6 months. I’m not saying that’s unfair necessarily but it’s different.”
His punishment is definitely different. Armstrong is correct in that other athletes admitted to using the same chemical substances in the same races with the same objectives and they are now serving much less severe punishments, but there are many other differences between his situation and those of his former colleagues and teammates. One important difference between Armstrong’s case and, for example, Floyd Landis’ is that Armstrong copped to the facts on a TV show that USADA and the Department of Justice had uncovered in their extensive investigations. Landis, while under oath, provided evidence that helped further an investigation. Armstrong has not provided any evidence or testimony that USADA values beyond punishing Armstrong himself. This televised confession alone is not part of a quid-pro-quo deal with the potential to motivate Travis Tygart, CEO of USADA, to reduce Armstrong’s suspension.
Armstrong repeatedly called the Oprah interview a step in a “process” of retribution and forgiveness. This first step alone didn’t provide anything that is likely to open the door for Armstrong to jump back into the world of professional triathlon.
His references to a process were largely undefined – no one is sure what will come in the next phases, but assuming Armstrong is seriously interested in attempting to persuade USADA to reduce his punishment, he will likely have to present information about others. Confessing to his own crimes doesn’t incentivize USADA. Unless a future phase in this process helps USADA and WADA further rid cycling of performance enhancing drugs, it’s likely Armstrong has raced his last sanctioned triathlon.