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Originally published Thursday, January 17, 2013 at 9:48 PM

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Lance Armstrong admits to doping

Lance Armstrong admits to doping in interview with Oprah Winfrey.

The Associated Press

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CHICAGO — He did it. He finally admitted it. Lance Armstrong doped.

He was light on the details and didn’t name names. He mused that he might not have been caught if not for his comeback in 2009. And he was certain his “fate was sealed” when longtime friend, training partner and trusted lieutenant George Hincapie, who was along for the ride on all seven of Armstrong’s Tour de France wins from 1999-2005, was forced to give him up to anti-doping authorities.

But from the start and more than two dozen times during the first of a two-part interview Thursday night with Oprah Winfrey on her OWN network, the disgraced former cycling champion acknowledged what he had lied about repeatedly for years: He was the ringleader of an elaborate doping scheme on a U.S. Postal Service team that swept him to the top of the podium at the Tour de France time after time.

“I’m a flawed character,” he said.

Did it feel wrong?

“No,” Armstrong replied. “Scary.”

“Did you feel bad about it?” Winfrey pressed him.

“No,” he said. “Even scarier.”

“Did you feel in any way that you were cheating?”

“No,” Armstrong paused. “Scariest.”

“I went and looked up the definition of cheat,” he added. “And the definition is to gain an advantage on a rival or foe. I didn’t view it that way. I viewed it as a level playing field.”

Armstrong was direct and matter-of-fact, neither pained nor defensive. There were no tears.

He dodged few questions and refused to implicate anyone else, even as he said it was humanly impossible to win seven straight Tours without doping.

“I’m not comfortable talking about other people,” Armstrong said. “I don’t want to accuse anybody.”

Whether his televised confession will help or hurt Armstrong’s bruised reputation and his already-tenuous defense in at least two pending lawsuits, and possibly a third, remains to be seen. Either way, a story that seemed too good to be true — cancer survivor returns to win one of sport’s most grueling events seven times in a row — was revealed to be just that.

Winfrey got right to the point, asking for yes-or-no answers to five questions.

Did Armstrong take banned substances? “Yes.”

Was one of those EPO? “Yes.”

Did he do blood doping and use transfusions? “Yes.”

Did he use testosterone, cortisone and human-growth hormone? “Yes.”

Did he take banned substances or blood dope in all his Tour wins? “Yes.”

Along the way, Armstrong cast aside teammates who questioned his tactics, yet swore he raced clean and tried to silence anyone who said otherwise. Ruthless and rich enough to settle any score, no place seemed beyond his reach — courtrooms, the court of public opinion, even along the roads of his sport’s most prestigious race.

That relentless pursuit was one of the things that Armstrong said he regretted most.

“It’s a major flaw, and it’s a guy who expected to get whatever he wanted and to control every outcome. And it’s inexcusable. “

Armstrong said he started doping in mid-1990s but didn’t dope when he finished third in his comeback attempt in 2009. “This story was so perfect for so long. It’s this myth, this perfect story, and it wasn’t true.”

Anti-doping officials have said nothing short of a confession under oath — “not talking to a talk-show host,” is how World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) director general David Howman put it — could prompt a reconsideration of Armstrong’s lifetime ban from sanctioned events.

He’s also had discussions with officials at the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency (USADA), whose 1,000-page report in October included testimony from nearly a dozen former teammates and led to stripping Armstrong of his Tour titles. Shortly after, he lost nearly all his endorsements and was forced to walk away from the Livestrong cancer charity he founded in 1997. This week, he was stripped of his bronze medal from the 2000 Olympics.

He could provide information that might get his ban reduced to eight years. By then, Armstrong would be 49. He returned to triathlons, where he began his professional career as a teenager, after retiring from cycling in 2011, and has told people he’s desperate to get back.

WADA President John Fahey derided Armstrong’s defense that he doped to create “a level playing field” as “a convenient way of justifying what he did — a fraud.”

USADA chief Travis Tygart said the cyclist’s admission was just a start: “ ... If he is sincere in his desire to correct his past mistakes, he will testify under oath about the full extent of his doping activities.”

The interview revealed few details about Armstrong’s regimen that would surprise anti-doping officials. What he called “my cocktail” contained testosterone and the blood-booster erythropoetein, or EPO, “but not a lot,” he said. That was on top of blood-doping, which involved removing his own blood and weeks later re-injecting it into his system.

It became so routine that he described it as “like saying we have to have air in our tires or water in our bottles.”

AP reporter Jim Vertuno contributed to this report.

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