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Armstrong Denies Banned-Substance Allegations

DEBBIE ELLIOTT, host:

This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Debbie Elliott.

Seven-time Tour de France champion Lance Armstrong is dealing with new allegations of performance-enhancing drug use. In sworn testimony, two witnesses say they heard Armstrong admit in 1996 that he had used banned substances. Armstrong is vehemently denying that the conversation occurred. NPR's Tom Goldman has been investigating this story for the last few months and joins us now. Hello there, Tom.

TOM GOLDMAN reporting:

Hi, Debbie.

ELLIOTT: What stands out about these allegations? There have been so many.

GOLDMAN: What stood out is that two people, in particular, under oath, who were testifying in a lawsuit that had been filed by Lance Armstrong, that they said when they were in an Indiana University hospital in 1996, where Armstrong was being treated for testicular cancer, that they heard him say that he had used a number of banned performance-enhancing drugs, including EPO, an oxygen-boosting substance, steroids, testosterone, growth hormone, cortisone.

What's striking about that is with all the sports doping news these days, you rarely, if ever, hear about an admission by an athlete - certainly a super-athlete like Lance Armstrong - you rarely hear an admission that they used something, albeit an alleged admission.

ELLIOTT: What does Lance Armstrong say about this?

GOLDMAN: Predictably, he is taking the offensive here, and he's saying it's absurd, it's untrue, and that he's one of the most tested athletes during his career.

ELLIOTT: Isn't he?

GOLDMAN: He is, but we should put this in the back of our heads that these days for an athlete, certainly elite athletes, to say I've never failed a test doesn't hold as much weight as maybe it did in the past, because the whole game, now in particular, is to find the drugs that aren't detected, and there are still some drugs that aren't detected by the testers.

ELLIOTT: So I have question about how this would have played out. It seems unusual to me that a doctor would be asking these confidential questions in front of other people.

GOLDMAN: It's important to remember that in the testimony, the sworn testimony of two of the people in that room, in particular, one woman, Betsy Andreu, who is the wife of a former cycling teammate of Armstrong's, the way she laid it out, it wasn't just that doctors walked into the room, started firing questions, very personal questions.

They apparently walked into the room. Betsy says that she said to her husband, we should leave and give Lance, you know, his privacy here. And Lance said, according to her, it's okay, you can stay, we're friends. And she said again, to her husband, I think we should leave. And her husband said, Lance said it's okay. We can stay. And it was then, according to her, that the doctors started asking questions. After several questions they asked, have you ever taken performance-enhancing drugs?

ELLIOTT: Tom, what do you think all of this means? I mean, these are allegations before Lance Armstrong won his Tour de France, so how do we put this in perspective?

GOLDMAN: We struggled with what to do with this, and we knew that people would discount this story because it's 10 years ago, and it did not involve the Tour de France years, 1999-2005. What we figured was, here's something that's pretty compelling: sworn testimony, under oath testimony, alleging these things about him.

ELLIOTT: NPR's Tom Goldman, thank you.

GOLDMAN: You're welcome.

ELLIOTT: To read Tom Goldman's full report on Lance Armstrong, go to NPR.org. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR National Correspondent Debbie Elliott can be heard telling stories from her native South. She covers the latest news and politics, and is attuned to the region's rich culture and history.
Tom Goldman is NPR's sports correspondent. His reports can be heard throughout NPR's news programming, including Morning Edition and All Things Considered, and on NPR.org.

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