Philip Maddocks: Oprah admits to using performance-enhancing drugs during interview

Philip Maddocks

In an interview that is scheduled for broadcast on her network on Thursday, talk show great Oprah Winfrey confessed that she used performance-enhancing drugs while interviewing Lance Armstrong last week.

“I was just trying to level the playing field,” Ms. Winfrey said. “It didn’t occur to me that I might be doing something wrong I guess because I was interviewing Lance.”

She said she took EPO, but “not a lot” to achieve her victory over Mr. Armstrong and that she had rationalized her use of testosterone just prior to the taping of last week’s broadcast with the reasoning that “surely I’m running low compared to Lance” and needed to gain an edge in her interview performance against the cycling champion.

At times Ms. Winfrey seemed contrite, offering herself a shoulder to cry on, but at other points she was firm, even defiant in her own defense, calling her doping regimen prior to the sit-down with Mr. Armstrong simple and conservative.

“I’m not going to sit here and tell you I didn’t know I was doing something wrong,” she said. “But if you are competing against someone who is not playing by the rules, how can it be cheating if you are only playing by the same rules as them?”

Mr. Armstrong, the once defiant cyclist, became choked up when told of Ms. Winfrey’s admission, calling it vindication for him and anyone else who just tried to do whatever it takes to win, and saying he was glad that some good has come from his owning up to past transgressions.

“For those who believe in the ideals this country was founded upon, that hard work and success is rewarded, I ask them, ‘What would happen to that belief without those of us who are willing to gather fame and wealth by whatever means is available?’”

Mr. Armstrong said he is hopeful that Ms. Winfrey’s latest interview, following fast on the heels of his own confessional, could be a turning point for her cable channel OWN, which has been low-rated since its birth two years ago.

“I think we are all going to be winners at the end of this,” he said.

Ms. Winfrey agreed, saying big scoops like the sit-down with herself don’t come along every day.

OWN is trying to capitalize on the interview by spreading it over five nights – billing it as a “Tour de Winfrey.”

“When Oprah does what you know she’s going to do — get the big gets — it just provides a big spotlight on what’s been going on,” said Mr. Armstrong, who added he has long wondered how Ms. Winfrey has managed to stay at the top without resorting to banned performance-enhancing substances.

“That’s just scary,” he said.

Ms. Winfrey claimed she had never failed a drug test because she had never taken anything to boost her on-air performance before her interview with Mr. Armstrong. She did admit to covering up her drug test following the taping by having actor Tom Cruise jump on the incriminating sample after she hid it in a sofa cushion.

“I’m not going to sit here and try to make excuses for myself. That’s what my viewers are for,” Ms. Winfrey said. “I guess I just became so focused on winning – winning at all cost – that I couldn’t accept not doing everything in my power to come up with the goods when facing Lance, even if it meant breaking the rules.”

The talk show host did not delve into the details of her doping, nor did she explain how it was done or who helped her do it. She said she was not comfortable talking about other people when asked if Mr. Armstrong had had any role in her pre-broadcast doping.

Travis Tygart, the chief executive of the antidoping agency, seemed surprised by Ms. Winfrey’s admission, calling it “a step in the right direction, I suppose.”

Mr. Tygart and other antidoping agency officials said they had all they could handle with Mr. Armstrong and other professional athletes and weren’t expecting to take any action against those who might be seeking an edge over the competition in television.

“Frankly, I wasn’t even aware she didn’t have her daytime show anymore,” he said.

Ms. Winfrey said she realizes she had crossed the line by taking the performance-enhancing drugs and knows it would be difficult for her to forgive herself without the help this television broadcast.

“This is just the first step in a long process – but all of that will have to be covered in another primetime blockbuster,” she said, adding that “in television, it’s how you play the game that counts.”

Philip Maddocks writes a weekly satirical column. He can be reached at