American cyclist Lance Armstrong says he should be allowed to compete at the top level again, despite admitting taking performance-enhancing drugs during all seven of his Tour de France victories.
The self-confessed drugs cheat told chat show host Oprah Winfrey he deserved to be punished, but “I’m not sure that I deserve a death penalty”.
In the second part of the interview Mr Armstrong, 41, spoke of how his sponsors began deserting him in droves following the publication of a US Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) investigation last year, which he estimated cost him $ 75 million.
But he said the hardest moment was when Livestrong, the charity he founded in the mid-1990s after his battle with testicular cancer, asked him to step aside.
He said: “The foundation is like my sixth child and to make that decision, and to step aside, was big… It was the best thing for our organisation, but it hurt like hell. That was the lowest (moment).”
I also feel humbled. I feel ashamed. This is ugly stuff. Lance Armstrong
Mr Armstrong also spoke of the impact the allegations and revelations had on his family, saying his mother had been left “a wreck”.
He fought back tears as he described a conversation he had with his 13-year-old son Luke when he discovered he had been defending him at school.
Mr Armstrong said: “That’s when I knew I had to tell him. He’d never asked me. He’d never said, ‘Dad, is this true?’. He trusted me. He heard about it in the hallways.
“I said, ‘Don’t defend me anymore’. I said, ‘If anyone says anything to you, do not defend me. Just say my dad said he was sorry’.
“He said, ‘Look, I love you, you’re my dad, this won’t change that’.”
Mr Armstrong yesterday admitted for the first time that he had used a variety of methods to cheat during his career, including taking the blood-boosting agent EPO, human growth hormone and oxygen-boosting blood transfusions.
The Texan was stripped of all his Tour de France titles and was banned from sport for life by USADA after it found him to be a central figure in “the most sophisticated, professionalised and successful doping programme that sport has ever seen”.
But Mr Armstrong questioned whether he deserved the lifetime ban from all sports handed to him last year, while former team-mates received six-month suspensions for providing evidence against him. And he spoke of his desperate desire to compete again, saying he would love to take part in the Chicago marathon when he is 50.
I deserve to be punished. I’m not sure that I deserve a death penalty. Lance Armstrong
Mr Armstrong said: “I can’t lie to you. I’d love the opportunity to be able to compete, but that isn’t the reason I’m doing this (the interview).
“Frankly, this might not be the most popular answer, but I think I deserve it (to be able to compete again).
“I deserve to be punished. I’m not sure that I deserve a death penalty.”
He added: “If you look at the situation, if you look at that culture, you look at the sport, you see the punishments. I could go back to that time… you’re trading my story for a six-month suspension. That’s what people got. What everybody got.
“I got a death penalty. I’m not saying that that’s unfair, necessarily, but I’m saying it’s different.” Mr Armstrong again apologised to his supporters for deceiving them, saying he felt disgraced.
“Of course, but I also feel humbled,” he said. “I feel ashamed. This is ugly stuff. It’s a process. And I think we’re at the beginning of the process.”
And he said he owed apologies to many of the people he admitted he had bullied and lied to, saying “I will spend as long as I have to to make amends.”
Mr Armstrong also denied claims made by USADA that he offered the body a substantial donation while he was under investigation by the organisation.
USADA’s inquiry led to Armstrong’s downfall and its chief executive Travis Tygart told 60 Minutes Sports last week that the Texan made the offer last year.
But Mr Armstrong told Oprah Winfrey: “I had no knowledge of that, but I’ve asked around. I think the claim was 250,000 dollars. That’s a lot of money. I would know. That is not true.”
A USADA spokesman told Press Association Sport: “We stand by the facts both in the reasoned decision and in the 60 Minutes interview.”
Michele Verroken, former director of ethics at UK Sport, told BBC Breakfast she believes a life ban is an “absolutely appropriate” punishment for Armstrong.
“Let’s not forget this was calculated, sophisticated, in its way of getting round the testing programme, so sometimes it’s important to say ‘enough is enough’, and a life ban should be applied,” she said.
“Investigation of any case is absolutely important, but in this case, surely, a life ban – and we can see the impact a life ban will have – a life ban is absolutely appropriate.”
Ms Verroken also suggested that Mr Armstrong did not show enough remorse for the sportsmen he had cheated out of victories.
“I have no doubt that he was showing how remorseful he was for his position, but we have to always understand there was going to be collateral damage.
“It just was interesting to see how much of it focused on him and his immediate family.
“But in actual fact he didn’t show the same level of remorse for all those other cyclists that he’d actually cheated out of their own achievements,” she said.