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Lance Armstrong is barred from participating in sanctioned sporting events, including bike races and triathlons. But he has not been banned from golf courses.
So he continues to chip away out there, his world still a work in progress one year after his televised confession to Oprah Winfrey in January 2013.
“I’ve been staying fit and even have my handicap down to a 9,” Armstrong told USA TODAY Sports in an exclusive interview. “Been wanting to break 80 and could never manage to do it. Then out of the blue one day I shoot 74. Since then I can’t break an egg. Frustrating game. ”
Such is life for Armstrong these days. If it’s not golf, it’s his endless personal redemption project.
On that front, he also manages an occasional breakthrough, including apologies delivered to some of those he trampled in pursuit of fame and fortune in professional cycling.
It remains complicated. Armstrong has been sued for tens of millions of dollars, including one case filed by the federal government that could drag on for years. Some of the people he bullied won’t return his calls or won’t accept his attempted apologies, including longtime nemesis Betsy Andreu, who says Armstrong is still besmirching her with a whisper campaign.
As his battles drag on, Armstrong still doesn’t appear to be hurting financially even if his legal costs mount. He’s spent time traveling, his destinations including Hawaii, Colorado and Europe.
“Most importantly, my kids are happy and healthy,” he said.
Meanwhile, Armstrong has yet to deliver on his promise to provide full disclosure about his misdeeds in cycling, including previously undisclosed details about who, how and when.
“I will spend and be committed to spending as long as I have to to make amends,” Armstrong told Winfrey one year ago.
The apology tour
Armstrong’s cycle of lies spit out an assorted array of former teammates, journalists and others he demeaned, smeared and bullied for daring to defy his wishes or tell the truth.
He recently traveled to Europe to apologize to at least two of them – cyclists Christophe Bassons and Filippo Simeoni. He traveled to Florida and had dinner with Emma O’Reilly, the masseuse he once called a prostitute and alcoholic after she blew the whistle on him.
Armstrong also settled a lawsuit involving David Walsh, the sportswriter Armstrong once vilified for daring to raise suspicions about his spectacular performances.
“I am traveling the world because I want to,” Armstrong said. “I am ashamed and embarrassed by some of my previous actions. I am truly sorry. Some people have accepted that and some haven’t.”
Hard feelings still swirl with former Tour de France champ Greg LeMond, whose bitter history with Armstrong goes back to 2001, when LeMond dared to question his involvement Michele Ferrari, a doctor linked to doping scandals. Armstrong has yet to make amends with LeMond.
Until recently, Armstrong also has not been able to make contact with Tyler Hamilton, the former teammate who endured Armstrong’s wrath after telling the world about him on “60 Minutes” in 2011.
“They did connect,” said Melinda Travis, spokeswoman for Hamilton. “But no concrete plans have been made (to meet).”
It’s a different story with former teammate Frankie Andreu and his wife Betsy, two others he smeared over the years. He called them to tell them he was sorry the day before he sat down with Oprah. But Betsy Andreu asked for an in-person apology and has not been granted one because Armstrong said he does not trust her.
“He won’t cop to the truth,” Betsy Andreu said. “If he is truly sorry, he’d speak the truth. He refuses to be held accountable, refuses to cooperate with USADA; instead, he’s turned himself into the victim. Sorry means nothing if there is no action to back it up.”
Armstrong sees it differently.
“I have apologized to Betsy,” he said. “Perhaps with some people, saying I’m sorry will never be enough. I said I was sorry and I meant it.”
There are some questions Armstrong still hasn’t answered.
Armstrong confessed to Winfrey that he was guilty of doping and lied about it for more than a decade. He didn’t get into details. After the interview, filmmaker Alex Gibney asked him a simple question:
When did you start using such performance-enhancing drugs?
He had already admitted it in general terms. But as for sharing that detail with Gibney, a man he had known for years …
“He wouldn’t tell me,” Gibney told USA TODAY Sports. “He’d be vague. We know it was 1994 or ’95, but we don’t know exactly when or how. I’m thinking, ‘Really? After all this time?’ It’s frustrating.”
Armstrong’s answer – or lack thereof – illustrates the suspended state of his image rehabilitation: the perception that he’s holding back and not coming clean for legal or other self-serving reasons.
Armstrong has his own reason.
“Oprah is not the place,” he said this week. “Gibney is not the place. The place to answer those questions are with some sort of global effort to reform the sport. When I’m in that chair at the right time and the right place, I will answer every question.”
He just doesn’t want it to be through the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency and its chief executive, Travis Tygart, the person Armstrong blamed for singling him out unfairly with a lifetime ban from sanctioned competition.
Instead, Armstrong plans to cooperate with a recently formed independent commission funded by the International Cycling Union (UCI). Its plan is to investigate cycling’s doping problem and UCI’s role in it.
Yet Armstrong’s participation there might not be so simple, either. USADA spokeswoman Annie Skinner told USA TODAY Sports this week that Armstrong has repeatedly rejected chances to cooperate and “finally shut the door on the chance at the end of 2013.”
USADA claims jurisdiction over Armstrong as the national anti-doping agency. Asked whether rules allow Armstrong to make a deal directly with the commission without going through USADA, Skinner replied:
“The rules are clear that he would have to testify fully and truthfully under oath to us, and there was really no good reason for him to refuse to cooperate, unless he is only sorry that he was caught and does not genuinely want to help the effort to ensure that no athlete has to face a culture where they must use dangerous drugs in order to win.”