Oprah Winfrey’s interview with disgraced champion cyclist Lance Armstrong will bring to a close more than a decade of doping allegations and vehement denials with a conversation that is make or break for both its participants.
"If Oprah is seen as being too soft on him, it will destroy her brand," says communications consultant Sue Cato.
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Armstrong reportedly confesses to doping
Disgraced cyclist Lance Armstrong has reportedly confessed in an interview with Oprah Winfrey that he took performance-enhancing drugs.
"And if anything Armstrong says to her is proven to be a lie, he’ll have to go right back to the beginning. This has to be an endgame."
In many respects Friday’s TV tête-à-tête is more than just a plea for forgiveness at the altar of Oprah.
For Armstrong it is his last chance to undo a decade of denial and obfuscation which has left his career, and reputation, in ruins. In the interview, according to media reports, Armstrong will confess to using performance-enhancing drugs to win cycling’s most prestigious race, the Tour de France, seven times.
Armstrong, 41, was stripped of his Tour titles in October after an investigation by the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) which uncovered what it described as "the most sophisticated, professionalised and successful doping program that sport has ever seen."
In the wake of the USADA’s damaging report, Armstrong was banned for life. In a devastating final blow, Pat McQuaid, the president of Cycling’s ruling body, the Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI), said: "Armstrong has no place in cycling. He deserves to be forgotten."
The financial impact has been enormous. It has cost Armstrong lucrative sponsorship deals, including Nike, RadioShack, Anheuser-Busch, Oakley and 24 Hour Fitness.
But what has brought Armstrong to Winfrey’s TV confessional is not entirely a search for absolution, but a far more commercial need to make a living. Reports in the Wall Street Journal suggest he is hoping to lay the groundwork for the USADA to give him permission to compete in elite triathlons.
The choice of Winfrey, says media and brand consultant Jane Caro, is revealing in itself."
Oprah Winfrey is the proxy for throwing yourself on the American public’s mercy," Caro says. "If you’re going on Oprah you’re ’fessing up to something. You’re giving us mitigaing circumstances."
But whether it works, Caro says, depends on how Armstrong handles himself in the interview. "If he does a powerful job of explaining his situation and the public feel he is deeply sorry, that could start to turn some opinions around."
With an appropriate and fulsome mea culpa, anyone can be redeemed.
Television responds to the truth, Caro says. "It’s very good at picking phoniness. And people hate that more the sin itself.
His sin is one thing, it has been his trenchant denial for so long that has actually condemned him much more."
Oprah interviews Armstrong
Former cycling teammate, Frankie Andreu, comments on the upcoming Armstrong confessional with US talk show host Oprah Winfrey.
But there are also a number of unexploded financial bombs still on the minefield, including demands he repay appearance fees, a $US1.5 million claim from the The Sunday Times of London over the libel suit they lost to him and "several million dollars" paid by the South Australian government to Armstrong to compete in the Tour Down Under."
This is massive roll of the dice, and he cannot afford any more lies," Cato said.
Cato believes that anyone - including Armstrong - can recover from a situation as personally and commercially damaging as this.
"With an appropriate and fulsome mea culpa, anyone can be redeemed," she says.
"Clearly in this case there are a whole range of commercial and legal complexities, but clearly Armstrong seems to be trying to get to the point that he can start to rebuild as quickly as possible, while he’s still young."
The interview will air on Friday, January 18th at 1pm on Winfrey’s network, OWN, in the US and on Australia’s Discovery channel simultaneously.