Tuesday, November 19, 2013


Whether or not you're a sports fan, or your awareness of Lance Armstrong is limited to a yellow Livestrong bracelet rattling around in a drawer somewhere, award-winning filmmaker Alex Gibney's latest feature, The Armstrong Lie, is completely fascinating.

Originally, Gibney's film was about Lance Armstrong's 2009 comeback to cycling after his announced retirement and four-year absence. Gibney spent much of 2009 with Armstrong, during his training, life on the road, and finally at the grueling 2009 Tour de France. Throughout his career, beginning at his first Tour de France win in 1999, Armstrong was immersed in rumors, suspicion and innuendo that he had used performance-enhancing drugs. He staunchly, aggressively and contentiously denied any use of banned substances or banned blood transfusions.  Gibney had completed his film,  but a new doping scandal was building momentum. More allegations that Armstrong didn't win 'clean' appeared in the news, including a Nightline interview with Armstrong's former teammate, Floyd Landis, who stated he had witnessed Armstrong receive illegal transfusions 'multiple times'.  The decision was made to shelve the original film.

In October of 2012, after a lengthy and extensive investigation confirmed his use of banned performance-enhancing substances, Lance Armstrong was stripped of his seven Tour de France titles and banned for life from competitive sport (applicable to all sports which follow the World Anti-Doping Agency code). After reading the 200 page report issued by the USADA (U.S. Anti-Doping Agency) that included interviews and testimonies of people with direct knowledge of Armstrong's doping, UCI (Union Cycliste Internationale) President Pat McQuaid was quoted, "Lance Armstrong has no place in cycling and he deserves to be forgotten in cycling."

Gibney returned to his original film, re-edited and added new interviews and footage, creating The Armstrong Lie. The film contains compelling historical material: Lance as a young triathlete, bald and pale as he battles cancer, charming as he visits hospital wards, and stunningly ferocious as he destroys the competition during so many races. Gibney's documentary is about Lance Armstrong, about his brilliant rise and his disgraceful fall, but it is also about the culture of hero-worship. Gibney admits in his narration that he also wanted to "believe the beautiful lie, more than the ugly truth."

Lance Armstrong may have no place in cycling. He may spend the rest of his life battling the many lawsuits that followed his confession that he lied and he cheated. In the theater where I saw the movie, you could hear the audience voice their contempt at the bright screen. It's hard to imagine he will ever be forgotten.

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