Lance Armstrong can relate to Russia.
The fallen cyclist, who was banned from sanctioned Olympic sports for life in 2012 as a result of long-term doping offenses, was at New York’s 1 Hotel Brooklyn Bridge on Saturday to support Neftlix’s doping documentary, “Icarus.” After a screening of the Academy Award shortlisted doc, which Netflix bought last year at the Sundance Film Festival for $5 million, Armstrong sat on a panel with director Bryan Fogel, producer Dan Cogan, and moderator Philip Gourevitch.
“Icarus” follows Fogel as he looks at the benefits and effects of using performance-enhancing drugs while competing in an amateur cycling race. The director stumbled into an international scandal when his research connected him with Grigory Rodchenkov, a key figure in Russia’s state-sponsored doping program in the 2014 Sochi Olympics. Ultimately, Rodchenkov became a whistleblower, working with the New York Times to pull back the curtain on doping. The International Olympic Committee (IOC) recently banned certain Russian athletes from the 2018 Winter Olympics in South Korea following its probe into an elaborate doping scheme involving those athletes.
Armstrong explained that getting ratted out in such a public way, as Russia has, is something he knows a thing or two about.
“I can relate to the way [it feels when] the press reacts to things like this and they way there needs to be that story,” Armstrong said. “My situation five years ago, when [my doping use] came out, the organizations — USADA (The United States Anti-Doping Agency), WADA (World Anti-Doping Agency) — I’m not trying to criticize them, but the declarations [they made] were pretty strong: ‘He’s biggest fraud in the history of sport’; ‘The most sophisticated doping program that ever existed’ ; and ‘Forcing young men to put deadly substances into their bodies.’ We don’t need to debate whether or not those statements are true, but those are strong statements. But underneath all of that you have a system that really doesn’t work that well.”
The cyclist went on to say that he was in “shock” after reading a 2016 Times story about how the Russians conspired to evade doping rules. (Fogel helped arrange for Rodchenkov to meet with Times reporters for that story.)
“I knew what was going to happen [after that],” Armstrong said. “The next day, WADA stands up and they get a commission of guys to investigate. Then nine months later they had that press conference where it’s like, ‘We’ve got ’em!’ So not to condone or sympathize with [Russia], but I can relate. I certainly can relate to them.”
“So it’s like when you’re looking at Russia, you’re looking at yourself,” Gourevitch asked.
“Uh,” Armstrong said before dodging the question. “I’m just glad to be here.”
Armstrong then called on Thomas Bach, the president of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to stand up to Russia.
“Grigory Rodchenkov is the most wanted man in Russia and if you are Thomas Bach and Vladimir Putin is your buddy — and it certainly appears that [they are] – Bach can say, ‘If Grigory dies, you are never coming back (to the Olympics).’ But Bach won’t say that to the Russians. But if Grigory does die, Thomas Bach has questions to answer.”
At the end of the 40-minute discussion, Armstrong reminded the audience the Russian cyclists he teamed with are “good guys. Good people.”
When asked if they doped like he did, Armstrong laughed and said, “You’d have to ask them.”