Lance Armstrong, who this fall was stripped of his seven Tour de France titles for doping and barred for life from competing in all Olympic sports, has told associates and anti-doping officials that he is considering publicly admitting that he used banned performance-enhancing drugs and blood transfusions during his cycling career, according to several people with direct knowledge of the situation.
He would do this, the people said, because he wants to persuade anti-doping officials to restore his eligibility so that he can resume his athletic career.
For more than a decade, Armstrong has denied doping, even after anti-doping officials laid out their case against him in October in hundreds of pages of eyewitness testimony from teammates, e-mail correspondence, financial records and laboratory analyses.
'Anything is possible'
When asked whether Armstrong might admit to doping, Tim Herman, Armstrong's longtime lawyer, said: "I do not know about that. I suppose anything is possible, for sure. Right now, that's really not on the table."
Several legal cases stand in the way of a confession, the people familiar with the situation said. Among the obstacles is a federal whistleblower case in which he and several officials from Armstrong's U.S. Postal Service cycling team are accused of defrauding the government by allowing doping on the squad when the team's contract with the Postal Service explicitly forbade it.
Armstrong, 41, has been in discussions with the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency and has met with Travis Tygart, the agency's chief executive, in an effort to mitigate the lifetime ban he received for playing a lead role in doping on his Tour-winning teams, said one person briefed on the situation.
Armstrong is also seeking to meet with David Howman, director general of the World Anti-Doping Agency, that person said. Herman denied that Armstrong was talking to Tygart, who declined to comment. Howman, who is on vacation in New Zealand, did not respond to a phone call and an e-mail.
Those with knowledge of Armstrong's situation did not want their names published because it would jeopardize their access to information.
Armstrong has been under pressure from various fronts to come clean. Wealthy supporters of Livestrong, the charity he founded after surviving testicular cancer, have been trying to persuade him to come forward so he could clear his conscience and save the organization from further damage, one source said.
Hope for reduced punishment
Armstrong also hopes to compete in triathlons and running events, but those competitions are often sanctioned by organizations that adhere to the World Anti-Doping Code under which Armstrong received his lifetime ban.
According to the World Anti-Doping Code, an athlete might be eligible for a reduced punishment if he fully confesses and says how he doped, who helped him and how he got away with it. Marion Jones, who won five medals at the 2000 Olympics, denied doping for years until giving a teary-eyed confession in 2007. She spent six months in prison for lying to federal investigators about her doping and for her involvement in a check-fraud scheme.
The timeline for a decision is unclear, but it is partly based on whether the U.S. Justice Department will join the whistleblower lawsuit, which was filed under the False Claims Act. The sole plaintiff of that lawsuit is Floyd Landis, Armstrong's former Postal Service teammate who was stripped of the 2006 Tour de France title for doping.
If the Justice Department also becomes a plaintiff, the case would be more formidable than if Landis pursued the case alone. Landis stands to collect up to 30 percent of any money won in the case, which could be in the millions.