Austin Measures Fallout From Lance Armstrong Scandal
The City of Austin, Texas, is singularly attached its favorite son, Lance Armstrong. His bike shop and Livestrong foundation are there. Now that Oprah Winfrey has confirmed that Armstrong confessed to doping and lied about it, can his foundation recover from the doping controversy?
RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:
This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.
STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
And I'm Steve Inskeep. Austin, Texas is singularly attached to Lance Armstrong. His bike shop, his foundation, and even a bike path bearing his name are all there. Now that the fallen cycling superstar has reportedly confessed to Oprah Winfrey that he used performance-enhancing drugs and lied about it for more than a decade, many in Austin are wondering what happens next. NPR's John Burnett reports.
JOHN BURNETT, BYLINE: The $14,000 carbon-fiber Italian bicycle hanging from the ceiling tells you that Mellow Johnny's is no ordinary bike shop. This is Lance Armstrong's chic bicycle shop-cafe-and training center in downtown Austin. Store manager Craig Staley claims they sell more T-shirts and cycling jerseys than any other bike shop in the world. But he wonders how that merchandise will do with the Armstrong brand fading fast.
CRAIG STALEY: We're floating on our own. You know, we're rolling under our own power at this point. The Lance effect has been taken away in some ways.
BURNETT: Orders for items emblazoned with "Mellow Johnny's" dropped off in October when the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency released a thick report describing Armstrong as the mastermind of, quote, "the most sophisticated, professionalized and successful doping program the sport has ever seen." Again, store manager Staley.
STALEY: Lance going on Oprah is going to change it all up again. We'll see what happens.
BURNETT: Oprah Winfrey interviewed Armstrong for more than two hours in an Austin hotel on Monday. She confirmed to "CBS This Morning" that Armstrong confessed his doping to her on-camera. The interview will be broadcast on her OWN network Thursday and Friday nights.
Armstrong has already been stripped of his seven consecutive Tour de France titles and barred from Olympic sports. In October, he stepped down as chairman of Livestrong - his cancer-victim-support charity - so that he could focus on his problems and not taint the nonprofit.
On Monday, just before the Oprah interview, Armstrong visited Livestrong's stylish headquarters in East Austin and made an emotional apology to the staff. Later, Livestrong board member Mark McKinnon went on CNN and told host John Berman he felt betrayed by his friend, Lance.
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MARK MCKINNON: Yes, I do. And I think he's got a lot of apologies. I think he's got to crawl over a lot of broken glass and drag the sackcloth. But I think the one thing they can't take away from him, John, is his cancer survivorship.
BURNETT: Livestrong released a statement late last night that says, in part: We expect Lance to be completely truthful and forthcoming in the interview and with all of us in the cancer community. We are charting a strong, independent course forward.
The controversy has taken its toll on Livestrong, which assists people through the hardships of cancer diagnosis and recovery. The once-ubiquitous yellow wristbands are not as popular anymore. With big sponsors like Trek and RadioShack withdrawing or reducing their support, the charity has had to reduce its budget by 11 percent. But other supporters remain steadfast.
PATTY FALO: My name is Patty Falo. I' m 41. I had Stage 1 breast cancer.
BURNETT: Sitting in a South Austin coffee shop, she says after getting a lumpectomy and undergoing radiation treatment beginning last March, she decided to contact Livestrong. Falo joined its exercise program at the Y two nights a week for three months.
FALO: You get together with other cancer survivors, and it was just like the perfect experience for me. Because, you know, I was kind of welcomed into a group where everybody else understood what I was going through. I could kind of let my guard down a little bit.
BURNETT: Falo, who's a CPA, does not condone Lance Armstrong's cheating. It's just that, as a cancer survivor, she continues to regard him in an entirely different light. Armstrong started the foundation after surviving testicular cancer.
FALO: Yeah, I think that people who haven't gone through cancer are a lot harder on Lance Armstrong than me and maybe other people who have been through cancer treatments.
BURNETT: Patty Falo has donated about $700 to Livestrong. And regardless what Lance Armstrong says in his interview with Oprah Winfrey tomorrow night, she says she'll keep giving to the organization. John Burnett, NPR News, Austin.
MONTAGNE: Lance Armstrong could take others down with him. A senior Olympic official says that if Armstrong implicates staff of the International Cycling Union, the sport of cycling might be pulled from future Olympic Games.
INSKEEP: That comment comes from International Olympic Committee member Dick Pound.
MONTAGNE: He used to be head of the world's anti-doping agency. The question here is whether the Cycling Union covered up for Armstrong and his teammates even as he made large financial donations to the organization.
INSKEEP: And Dick Pound told the Reuters news agency the Olympics could give the Cycling Union four or eight years to sort it out, in his words, before allowing the sport back in. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.