Credit: Harpo Studios / Washington Post

Credit: Harpo Studios / Washington Post

For those who needed to hear it from the man himself, Lance Armstrong has finally admitted to using performance enhancing drugs throughout his career.

In a bizarre interview with Oprah Winfrey, Armstrong also admitted to lying, bullying and perpetuating a myth of cycling invincibility. He admitted that he could not have won his seven Tour de France without  his cocktail of cortisone, EPO, human growth hormones, blood transfusions and testosterone.

Yet Armstrong’s confession rang hollow. His responses to Winfrey’s questions were most persuasive when he simply answered ‘yes’ or ‘no’.

‘Did you ever take banned substances to enhance your cycling performances?’


‘Was one of those banned substances EPO?’


‘Yes or No: In all seven of your Tour de France victories, did you ever take banned substances or blood dope?’


But when asked about his association with the dodgy Italian doctor, Michele Ferrari, Armstrong would only say that he was a ‘good guy’. And when given an opportunity to apologise to Tyler Hamilton, Betsy Andreu, Floyd Landis, David Walsh or Paul Kimmage, he sidestepped it. The most charitable thing he could say about his character assassination of Emma O’Reilly was that she got ‘run over’ by obnoxious ways.

The interview re-inforced two truths about Lance Armstrong. First, he clearly suffers from narcissistic personality disorder. The career-long trail of bullying and manipulation fits with a man who constructed an ‘idealised false self’, likely as a reaction to his father’s abandonment of the family when Armstrong was only very young . What’s narcissistic personality disorder, you say? One psychologist puts it like this:

‘People afflicted with unbearable shame often construct a persona to deny it, an idealized false self to cover over the sense of inner defect. They devote large amounts of psychic energy to preserving and protecting that image. Though notoriously sensitive to criticism, they know on some level that the image they present to the world is a lie. Marshaling resources to bolster that lie consumes them.’

So what would a narcissist do once he’s lost everything? Would he seek redemption? Would he truly confess to his sins and take meaningful steps to re-build a sport he helped to discredit? In short, would he be motivated by genuine remorse?

No. A narcissist would not be motivated by genuine remorse because that would involve shifting the referent away from himself. Narcissists are inherently selfish. They consider actions through their own self-gain.

Armstrong’s ‘confession’ should be seen in this light. It was the most expedient course of action he could have taken. Winfrey was chosen because of her audience pulling power. Also because she would be a soft interviewer – she’s probably learnt more about cycling in the last few weeks preparing for the interview than she was ever likely to know.

Armstrong’s confession was far more likely to have been motivated by his desire to compete again. Armstrong told Winfrey that competition was very important to him. But for a narcissist with an inherently low self-esteem, sporting victory was an important part of his self-worth. Bullying was the other way Armstrong made himself feel good about himself.

The second truth about the interview follows from the first: Armstrong’s confession lacked remorse. Here’s what he told Winfrey whether he felt bad about cheating:

‘Did it feel wrong?’

‘At the time? No… It’s scary.’

‘Did you feel bad about it?’

‘No, even scarier.’

‘Did you feel in any way that you were cheating?’

‘No, the scariest. I looked up the definition of cheat, and it is to gain an advantage over a rival or foe, and I didn’t view it that way, I viewed it as a level playing field.’

When Winfrey played back tapes of his SCA deposition in which he lied under oath, he begun referring to himself in the third person. Same when he spoke about the way he bullied past teammates and the media. He disassociated himself from the person on the monitor. And it’s suggests that when Armstrong watches his confession to Oprah, he’ll disassociate himself from that too.

So, without genuine remorse, what is Armstrong’s confession worth? Not much. There will be some fans who will be ready to forgive and forget because of this confession. But they shouldn’t kid themselves: Armstrong isn’t sorry he cheated, lied or bullied. He’s just sorry he got caught.






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