Starring: Lance Armstrong, Frankie Andreu, Betsy Andreu, Johan Bruyneel, George Hincapie, Jonathan Vaughters
Directed by: Alex Gibney
Synopsis: A documentary chronicling sports legend Lance Armstrong’s improbable rise and ultimate fall from grace.
Some stories just transcend their field. For instance, I have no idea or interest in cycling, yet Lance Armstrong was one of those characters that you just knew about. He was hugely famous because he was more than his sport, he was a force of nature. Much like Michael Jordan, David Beckham, Mike Tyson, Babe Ruth and Michael Schumacher, these are people who are known the world over, whether you are or were interested in them professionally or not.
Lance Armstrong, of course, is a bit different. He is now known for all the wrong reasons. He rode for years with accusations about doping being levelled at him. And the whole time between 1999 and 2005 when he won 7 consecutive Tour de France titles, he batted them away with conviction and arrogance. Then, like a serial killer or bank robber in a movie, he got too smart and confident for his own good and wanted ‘one last heist’ or ‘comeback’ in 2009 and promptly got himself busted. Hero to zero.
The documentary itself is quite strange because it was filmed before the revelations came out, and was actually supposed to be a triumphant piece about Armstrong’s comeback. And it so nearly was. He finished third in the Tour, despite being nearly forty, and not having raced for four years. In the course of editing the movie, the revelations came out, and Gibney was about to shelve it, when he decided to factor the news of Armstrong’s guilt into the documentary.
It’s not the kind of documentary you would necessarily go to the cinema to see, but it is interesting and informative none the less. And it splits opinion. On the one hand, you have a kind of loathing for Armstrong due to his bullying, arrogance and abuse of power which ruined more than a few peoples lives and reputations. My dislike of him however was tempered by the fact that a) it sounds like every cyclist was doping anyway, so he didn’t actually have much of an advantage over anyone and b) despite his faults, he has made millions upon millions of dollars for cancer charities and good causes the world over. Now, you could ask yourself, is cheating at cycling worth saving lives? Or is the sport more important than that?
The Liverpool manager, Bill Shankly, once said “Football isn’t about life and death, it’s more important than that” and that philosophy kind of sums up Armstrong and any top level athlete. It’s the winning that matters, and they will do it however they can.
Personally, not having a vested interest in the sport, I can see both arguments. The guy is clearly dislikeable at times, but I’m sure all the people he helped along the way are grateful, no matter how he went about it.