For ABC’s Neal Karlinsky, Lance Armstrong Confession Is Personal

By Alex Weprin 

As Lance Armstrong comes clean to Oprah Winfrey about his days of doping, it is something of a bittersweet moment for ABC News correspondent Neal Karlinsky. Karlinsky has been following the Armstrong story longer than just about any other journalist in TV news, beginning in 2010 with an interview with Armstrong’s former teammate Floyd Landis.

There is also personal element to it.

“I used to race competitively, I feel very passionately about the sport of cycling, I just love it,” Karlinsky tells TVNewser. “There was never any intersection between this — lets face it, obscure sport in the United States — and my career as a journalist. I never expected that intersection to be the one story that is pulling the sport down.”

Since the Landis interview, Karlinsky has been on the Armstrong beat for ABC, and along the way has spoken to dozens of sources close to Armstrong and his teammates. He says that he was not surprised the U.S. Anti Doping agency took action against the cyclist, but rather that it took so long.

“This story — in talking to sources on background since 2010 — has felt like it might explode with a huge development at any moment almost the entire time,” he said.

Karlinsky says that Armstrong genuinely wants to be able to compete competitively again, and that is one of the driving forces behind his decision to come clean.

“Although to some people it seems trite, that he wants to have the ban reduced or taken away so that he can compete, I can tell you that is of intense interest to him,” Karlinsky said. “He is a competitive athlete and that is all he wants to do. It is driving him nuts that he can’t compete in triathlons right now.”

Neal Karlinsky interviews Floyd Landis on ‘Nightline’ in 2010

As for the decision to go with Oprah, as opposed to say ABC News or CBS, Karlinslky says that it makes sense for Armstrong, even if it means journalists will be left wanting more.

“I know from talking to people close to him on deep background, that he was in a very difficult place right now. I know he was looking at many different ways of trying to move himself forward,” Karlinsky said. “To be honest it was a little surprising to see Oprah’s name pop up to get the interview, but when you look at Armstrong it makes perfect sense for him.”

He was a guy who was comfortable on the world stage, treated not like a sporting star, but as a celebrity,” he added. “I don’t think he wanted to face a tough cross-examination from a journalist who could really hammer him. I think he wanted to get in front of someone who he could be human with, and say what he wants to say and be seen by a lot of people.”