All the speculation is about to end. In a matter of hours, viewers can judge for themselves whether Lance Armstrong told the truth this time.
Armstrong's confession to Oprah Winfrey about using performance-enhancing drugs to win the Tour de France a record seven times in a row will be televised at 9 p.m. Thursday, the first segment of a two-part special on the Oprah Winfrey Network. Since word of his confession during Monday's taping in Austin, Texas, was first reported by The Associated Press, there has been no shortage of opinions or advice on what Armstrong should say.
The International Olympic Committee didn't wait to listen.
The IOC on Wednesday stripped Armstrong of his 2000 bronze medal, sending him a letter asking him to return it, according to officials who spoke on condition of anonymity because the decision had not been announced.
For others who will tune in Thursday, it's not just what Armstrong said that matters. How he said it, whether angry, tearful or matter-of-fact, will be judged as well.
"I left it all on the table with her and when it airs the people can decide," Armstrong said of his interview in a text sent to the AP on Wednesday. He dismissed a story earlier in the day that described him as "not contrite" when he acknowledged doping while dominating the cycling world.
Livestrong, the cancer charity Armstrong founded in 1997 and was forced to walk away from last year, said in a statement it expected him to be "completely truthful and forthcoming." A day earlier, World Anti-Doping Agency director general David Howman said nothing short of a confession under oath — "not talking to a talk-show host" — could prompt a reconsideration of Armstrong's lifetime ban from sanctioned events. And Frankie Andreu, a former teammate that Armstrong turned on, said the disgraced cyclist had an obligation to tell all he knew and help clean up the sport.
"I have no idea what the future holds other than me holding my kids," Armstrong said in the text.
Armstrong has held conversations with officials from the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency, including a reportedly contentious face-to-face meeting with USADA chief executive Travis Tygart near the Denver airport. It was USADA's 1,000-page report last year, including testimony from nearly a dozen former teammates, that portrayed Armstrong as the leader of a sophisticated doping ring that propelled the U.S. Postal Service team to title after title at the Tour de France. In addition to the lifetime ban, Armstrong was stripped of all seven wins, lost nearly all of his endorsements and was forced to cut ties with Livestrong.
According to a person with knowledge of the situation, Armstrong has information that might lead to his ban being reduced to eight years. That would make him eligible to compete in elite triathlons, many of which are sanctioned under world anti-doping rules, in 2020, when Armstrong will be 49. He was a professional athlete in the three-discipline sport as a teenager, and returned to competition after retiring from cycling in 2011.
That person also said the bar for Armstrong's redemption is higher now than when the case was open, a time during which he refused to speak to investigators. The person spoke on condition of anonymity because he was discussing a confidential matter.
Armstrong, who always prized loyalty on his racing teams, now faces some very tough choices himself: whether to cooperate and name those who may have aided, abetted or helped cover up the long-time use of PEDs.
Armstrong left his hometown of Austin, where the interview was taped at a downtown hotel, and is in Hawaii. He is named as a defendant in at least two pending lawsuits, and possibly a third. The Justice Department faces a Thursday deadline on whether to join a whistle-blower lawsuit filed by former teammate Floyd Landis, who was stripped of the 2006 Tour de France title for doping.
That suit alleges Armstrong defrauded the U.S. government by repeatedly denying he used performance-enhancing drugs. Armstrong could be required to return substantial sponsorship fees and pay a hefty fine. The AP reported earlier that Justice Department officials were likely to join the lawsuit.
Jim Litke reported from Chicago, Jim Vertuno from Austin.