First there was a tear-stained apology to charity staff, to be followed by a humiliating confession for a global TV audience. Lance Armstrong’s descent from icon to disgrace has been dramatic, but may not be irreversible.
Details of the Texan’s date with Oprah on Thursday have leaked, most crucially that he confesses to using performance-enhancing drugs after decades of denial. This barely covers the US Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) allegation that Armstrong ran “the most professionalized and successful doping program in the history of sport”, but could still land the ex-cyclist in serious trouble.
The confession could cost Armstrong tens of millions of dollars in lawsuits from the Sunday Times to the US government, with a possibility of jail time for perjury. The former seven-time Tour de France champion has already received a lifetime ban from cycling and Olympic sports, lost his lucrative sponsorships and resigned from the Livestrong cancer foundation.
A gamble, but also a step forward. “Rebuilding Lance Armstrong’s reputation is the biggest challenge imaginable, but it starts now," John David, CEO at David PR, told Metro. “He has supporters and if his story is believable, he has a chance.” David adds that appearing on Oprah Winfrey’s show, rather than hard news alternatives, will help as “she would not skewer him”.
Charity will be key; Livestrong has raised over $500 million for cancer sufferers and its patron continues to benefit from goodwill. Donations were “twice normal levels” after the damning report, the charity claims. Despite his resignation, Armstrong remains in close contact with Livestrong.
Armstrong has also met with USADA chiefs to discuss co-operation with a wider investigation, naming corrupt officials, in exchange for a reduced ban that allowed him to compete in triathlon events. His first events in 2012 were a success and the ‘Ironman’ authority would not rule out a return to the sport.
Other drug cheats have returned to sport, such as baseball player Mark McGwire, now a coach. “It won't happen tomorrow, but there’s a path back for him if he is smart,” says David.
Paying the price: What Armstrong could lose
US Justice Department: $50 million – value of sponsorship with Armstrong’s US Postal Service team, which it could pursue with fraud claims.
Prizes and bonuses: $16 million which authorities are now seeking – including $12 million to SCA Promotions.
The Sunday Times: $1.5 million from a libel case alleging drug use.