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Ex-teammate: Lance Armstrong is 'worthy of redemption'

Jan. 19, 2013 at 10:14 AM ET

One of Lance Armstrong's ex-teammates believes the disgraced cyclist deserves a chance to redeem his reputation in the wake of his admission to doping during his career.

Scott Mercier, who was a teammate of Armstrong’s in the 1992 Olympics and in the 1994 World Championships, spoke with Lester Holt on TODAY Saturday alongside Bicycling Magazine editor-at-large Bill Strickland.  

“Redemption is the key thing to focus on,’’ Mercier said. “Everybody is worthy of redemption. I think it’s what you do to earn that. Whether (Armstrong) does the right things to earn that is really not for me to say, but I think everybody at some point can earn redemption.’’

In a lengthy interview with Oprah Winfrey, the second part of which aired Friday night on the OWN Network, Armstrong grew tearful when talking about having to explain his cheating to his children, particularly his son Luke. Armstrong had remained defiant against his critics even after a damning, 1,000-page report was released in October by the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency about his use of performance-enhancing drugs to win seven Tour de France titles. Having to explain his cheating to his children may have been a factor in deciding to do the interview with Winfrey, according to Strickland.

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“It’s always complex with him,’’ Strickland said. “He always has multiple motives. I really believe that he’s kind of hit rock bottom, that he’s cracked. Five or six weeks ago, we had a short conversation. He didn’t go into details, but he was talking about how hard it was with his kids, and I think that was a turning point for him.’’

Mercier, 44, quit the sport because he did not want to use performance-enhancing drugs to compete at the highest level, and his family was a big reason for making that decision.

“My wife called me about four months ago and she said when this whole thing was breaking, ‘Aren’t you glad you’re not sitting down with your children tonight and telling them I had to cheat and lie to win?’’ Mercier said.

In 1997, Mercier was part of the U.S. Postal Service team, one year before Armstrong returned from his battle with cancer to join a team. Mercier told multiple media outlets that in 1997, a team doctor offered him synthetic testosterone in case he wanted to use it. He refused, but several riders in addition to Armstrong from the U.S. Postal Service team have since admitting to blood doping. 

“I walked away,’’ Mercier said. “I wasn’t pressured to dope, but it was a decision where I felt I was going to have to cross that bright line. I wanted to win so badly in 1992 at the Olympic Games that I swallowed my own vomit. (I did) everything within my power to win the race, but when I came to that decision that I was going to have to cheat and lie to my family and friends, I had to walk away.’’

Mercier is hoping that Armstrong’s fall from grace can help clean up various areas of American life where cutting corners in order to win at all costs has become a regular behavior.

“This really is a story bigger than Lance,’’ Mercier said. “It’s bigger than cycling. It really goes to the core of (the fact that) ethics matter, (and) doing things the right way matter. It seems whether it’s business, academics, politics, I think the country is fed up. Hopefully we’re seeing a cultural shift that how you do things is more important than the result.’’

While Strickland believes that cycling is in a cleaner era than the 1990s and early 2000s when a host of high-profile riders admitted to using performance-enhancing drugs, it will be difficult to completely erase it from the sport even with Armstrong’s admission.

“The same way you can’t eradicate jaywalking, I think you’ll never get cheating out of any sport, even cycling,’’ Strickland said. “From the EPO era, there are certainly a lot of people who still have some stories to tell.’’

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