Armstrong admits doping: 'I'm a flawed character' (+video interview)
He was almost as reluctant to discuss claims by former teammates Tyler Hamilton and Floyd Landis that Armstrong told them, separately, that he tested positive during the 2001 Tour de Suisse and conspired with officials of the International Cycling Union officials to cover it up — in exchange for a donation.
"That story wasn't true. There was no positive test, no paying off of the labs. There was no secret meeting with the lab director," he said.
Winfrey pressed him again, asking if the money he donated wasn't part of a tit-for-tat agreement, "Why make it?"
"Because they asked me to," Armstrong began.
"This is impossible for me to answer and have anybody believe it," he said. "It was not in exchange for any cover-up. ... I have every incentive here to tell you yes."
Finally, he summed up the entire episode this way: "I was retired. ... They needed money."
Ultimately, though, it was Landis who did the most damage to Armstrong's story. Landis was stripped of the 2006 Tour title after testing positive and wound up on the sport's fringes looking for work. Armstrong said his former teammate threatened to release potentially destructive videos if he wasn't given a spot on the team. That was in 2009, when Armstrong returned to the Tour after four years off.
Winfrey asked whether Landis' decision to talk was "the tipping point."
"I'd agree with that. I might back it up a little and talk about the comeback. I think the comeback didn't sit well with Floyd," Armstrong recalled.
"Do you regret now coming back?"
"I do. We wouldn't be sitting here if I didn't come back," he said.
The closest Armstrong came to contrition was when Winfrey asked him about his apologies in recent days, notably to former teammate Frankie Andreu, who struggled to find work in cycling after Armstrong dropped him from the USPS team, as well as his wife, Betsy. Armstrong said she was jealous of his success, and invented stories about his doping as part of a long-running vendetta.
"Have you made peace?" Winfrey asked.
"No," Armstrong replied, "because they've been hurt too badly, and a 40-minute (phone) conversation isn't enough."
He also called London Sunday Times reporter David Walsh as well as Emma O'Reilly, who worked as a masseuse for the USPS team and later provided considerable material for a critical book Walsh wrote about Armstrong and his role in cycling's doping culture.
Armstrong subsequently sued for libel in Britain and won a $500,000 judgment against the newspaper, which is now suing to get the money back. Armstrong was, if anything, even more vicious in the way he went after O'Reilly. He intimated she was let go from the Postal team because she seemed more interested in personal relationships than professional ones.
"What do you want to say about Emma O'Reilly?" Winfrey asked.
"She, she's one of these people that I have to apologize to. She's one of these people that got run over, got bullied."
"You sued her?"
"To be honest, Oprah, we sued so many people I don't even," Armstrong said, then paused, "I'm sure we did."
Near the end of the first interview installment, Winfrey asked about a federal investigation of Armstrong that was dropped by the Justice Department without charges.
"When they dropped the case, did you think: 'Now, finally over, done, victory'?"
Armstrong looked up. He exhaled.
"It's hard to define victory," he said. "But I thought I was out of the woods."
AP Sports Writers Jim Vertuno in Austin, Texas, Eddie Pells in Denver and Dennis Passa in Melbourne contributed to this report.
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