'Don't defend me,' Armstrong told son, 13

Published: Saturday, Jan. 19, 2013 - 12:00 am | Page 2C
Last Modified: Saturday, Jan. 19, 2013 - 6:15 pm

CHICAGO – Lance Armstrong finally cracked.

Not while expressing deep remorse or regrets, though there was plenty of that in Friday night's second part of Armstrong's interview with Oprah Winfrey.

It wasn't over the $75 million in lost sponsorship deals, nor when Armstrong was forced to walk away from the Livestrong cancer charity he founded and called his "sixth child." It wasn't even about his lifetime ban from competition.

It was another bit of collateral damage that Armstrong said he wasn't prepared to deal with. "I saw my son defending me and saying, 'That's not true. What you're saying about my dad is not true,' " he recalled. "That's when I knew I had to tell him."

Armstrong was near tears at that point, referring to 13-year-old Luke, the oldest of his five children. He blinked, looked away from Winfrey, and with his lip trembling, struggled to compose himself.

It came just past the midpoint of the hourlong program on Winfrey's OWN network. In the first part, broadcast Thursday, the disgraced cycling champion admitted using performance-enhancing drugs when he won seven straight Tour de France titles.

Critics said he hadn't been contrite enough in the first half of the interview, which was taped Monday in Austin, Texas, but Armstrong seemed to lose his composure when Winfrey zeroed in on his personal life.

"What did you say?" Winfrey asked.

"I said, 'Listen, there's been a lot of questions about your dad. My career. Whether I doped or did not dope. I've always denied that and I've always been ruthless and defiant about that. You guys have seen that. That's probably why you trusted me on it.' Which makes it even sicker.

"And, uh, I told Luke, I said," and then Armstrong paused for a long time to collect himself, "I said, 'Don't defend me anymore. Don't.'

"He said OK. He just said, 'Look, I love you. You're my dad. This won't change that.' "

Winfrey also drew Armstrong out on his ex-wife, Kristin, who he claimed knew just enough about both the doping and lying to ask him to stop. He credited her with making him promise that his comeback in 2009 would be drug-free.

"She said to me, 'You can do it under one condition: That you never cross that line again,' " Armstrong recalled.

"The line of drugs?" Winfrey asked.

"Yes. And I said, 'You've got a deal,' " he replied. "And I never would have betrayed that with her."

Armstrong said in the first part of the interview that he had stayed clean in the comeback, a claim that runs counter to the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency report.

And that wasn't the only portion of the interview likely to rile anti-doping officials.

Winfrey asked Armstrong about a "60 Minutes Sports" interview in which USADA chief executive Travis Tygart said a representative of the cyclist had offered a donation that the agency turned down.

"Were you trying to pay off USADA?" she asked.

"No, that's not true," he replied. "That is not true."

Winfrey asks the question differently three more times.

"That is not true," he insisted.

USADA spokeswoman Annie Skinner replied in a statement: "We stand by the facts both in the reasoned decision and in the '60 Minutes' interview."

After retiring from cycling in 2011, Armstrong returned to triathlons, where he began his professional career as a teenager, and he has told people he's desperate to get back.

© Copyright The Sacramento Bee. All rights reserved.

Read more articles by Jim Litke



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