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Oprah interview with Armstrong was 'intense'

Jan. 15, 2013 at 11:04 p.m.
Updated Jan. 15, 2013 at 7:16 p.m.

This Monday, Jan. 14, 2013 photo provided by Harpo Studios Inc., shows talk-show host Oprah Winfrey interviewing cyclist Lance Armstrong during taping for the show "Oprah and Lance Armstrong: The Worldwide Exclusive" in Austin, Texas. The two-part episode of "Oprah's Next Chapter" will air nationally Thursday and Friday, Jan. 17-18, 2013. (AP Photo/Courtesy of Harpo Studios, Inc., George Burns)

AUSTIN (AP) - "Emotional" doesn't come close to describing Lance Armstrong's conversation with Oprah Winfrey - an interview that included his confession about using performance-enhancing drugs to win seven Tour de France titles, Winfrey said Tuesday.

She recounted her session with Armstrong on "CBS This Morning" and promoted what has become a two-part special on her OWN network even while international doping officials said it wouldn't be enough to save the disgraced cyclist's career.

"I don't think 'emotional' begins to describe the intensity or the difficulty he experienced in talking about some of these things," Winfrey said.

Armstrong admitted during the interview at an Austin hotel that he used drugs to help him win the titles.

"It was surprising to me," she said. "I would say that for myself, my team, all of us in the room, we were mesmerized and riveted by some of his answers."

Winfrey said she went right at Armstrong with tough questions, and, during a break, he asked if they would lighten up at some point. Still, Winfrey said she did not have to dig and that he was "pretty forthcoming."

"I felt that he was thoughtful. I thought that he was serious," she said. "I thought that he certainly had prepared for this moment. I would say that he met the moment."

The session was to be broadcast in a single special Thursday but Winfrey said it will now run in two parts on consecutive nights - Thursday and Friday - because there is so much material. Winfrey would not characterize whether Armstrong seemed contrite, saying she'll leave that to viewers.

As stunning as Armstrong's confession was for someone who relentlessly denied using PEDs, the World Anti-Doping Agency said he must confess under oath if he wants to reduce his lifetime ban from sports.

The cyclist was stripped of his Tour titles, lost most of his endorsements and was forced to leave his cancer charity, Livestrong, last year after the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency issued a 1,000-page report that accused him of masterminding a long-running doping scheme.

WADA's statement said: "Only when Mr. Armstrong makes a full confession under oath - and tells the anti-doping authorities all he knows about doping activities - can any legal and proper process for him to seek any reopening or reconsideration of his lifetime ban commence."

The International Cycling Union, or UCI, also issued a statement, urging Armstrong to tell his story to an independent commission it has set up to examine claims that cycling's governing body hid suspicious samples from the cyclist, accepted financial donations from him and helped him avoid detection in doping tests.

Before the Winfrey interview, Armstrong visited the headquarters of Livestrong, the charity he founded in 1997 and turned into a global force on the strength of his athletic dominance and personal story of surviving testicular cancer that had spread to his lungs and brain.

"I'm sorry," Armstrong told about 100 staff members gathered in a conference. He choked up during the 20-minute talk, expressed regret for the long-running controversy tied to performance-enhancers, but stopped short of admitting he used them.

"Heartfelt and sincere," is how Livestrong spokeswoman Katherine McLane described his speech.

Winfrey has promoted her interview, one of the biggest for OWN since she launched the network in 2011, as a "no-holds barred" session and said she was ready to go with 112 questions. Not all of them were asked, she said, but many were.

USADA chief executive Travis Tygart, a longtime critic of Armstrong's, called the drug regimen practiced while Armstrong led the U.S. Postal Service team "the most sophisticated, professionalized and successful doping program that sport has ever seen." USADA did not respond to requests for comment about Armstrong's confession.

Armstrong often went after his critics during his long reign as cycling champion. He scolded some in public and didn't hesitate to punish outspoken riders during the race itself. He waged legal battles against still others in court.

At least one of his opponents, the London-based Sunday Times, has already filed a lawsuit to recover about $500,000 it paid him to settle a libel case, and Dallas-based SCA Promotions, which tried to deny Armstrong a promised bonus for a Tour de France win, has threatened to bring another lawsuit seeking to recover more than $7.5 million awarded by an arbitration panel.

In Australia, the government of South Australia state said it will seek the repayment of several million dollars in appearance fees paid to Armstrong for competing in the Tour Down Under in 2009, 2010 and 2011.

"We'd be more than happy for Mr. Armstrong to make any repayment of monies to us," South Australia Premier Jay Weatherill said.

Betsy Andreu, the wife of former Armstrong teammate Frankie Andreu, was one of the first to publicly accuse Armstrong of using performance-enhancing drugs. She called news of Armstrong's confession "very emotional and very sad," and choked up when asked to comment.

"He used to be one of my husband's best friends and because he wouldn't go along with the doping, he got kicked to the side," she said. "Lance could have a positive impact if he tells the truth on everything. He's got to be completely honest."

Betsy Andreu testified in SCA's arbitration case challenging the bonus in 2005, saying Armstrong admitted in an Indiana hospital room in 1996 that he had taken many performance-enhancing drugs, a claim Armstrong vehemently denied.

"It would be nice if he would come out and say the hospital room happened," Andreu said. "That's where it all started."

According to the attorney, who works outside the government, the lawsuit alleges that Armstrong defrauded the U.S. government based on his years of denying use of performance-enhancing drugs. The attorney spoke on condition of anonymity because the source was not authorized to speak on the record about the matter.

The lawsuit most likely to be influenced by a confession might be the Sunday Times case. Potential perjury charges stemming from Armstrong's sworn testimony in the 2005 arbitration fight would not apply because of the statute of limitations. Armstrong was not deposed during the federal investigation that was closed last year.

After the USADA findings, he was also barred from competing in the elite triathlon or running events he participated in after his cycling career. WADA Code rules state his lifetime ban cannot be reduced to less than eight years. WADA and U.S. Anti-Doping officials could agree to reduce the ban further depending on what information Armstrong provides and his level of cooperation.

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