Liestrong: ‘The Armstrong Lie’ doc details sports’ greatest fraud
Published: December 4, 2013
The most telling moment in The Armstrong Lie isn’t his January 14, 2013, conversation with Oprah Winfrey, during which Lance Armstrong finally cut the crap and admitted to using performance-enhancing drugs in each and every one of his Tour de France victories. For Oscar-winning filmmaker Alex Gibney (Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room, Taxi to the Dark Side) that would’ve been too easy: build things up, show a million clips of Armstrong denying, then conclude epically with … the Oprah confession. (Gasp!)
It’s more complicated than that: originally, Gibney set out to film the 2009 Tour de France return of the hero who had won the event seven consecutive times, the American (from Plano, TX, of all places), wearing a white hat and coming out of a triumphant four-year retirement to prove the haters he’s still the best, drugs or not.
Of course, there were drugs everywhere. And the movie took an unexpected turn when the drug scandal unfolded in front of Gibney’s eyes.
“I fucked up your movie, didn’t I?” says a dejected Armstrong after realizing winning this Tour was going to be more difficult than before.
“Nothing fucks up my movie!” responds Gibney, and he was right: from that moment on, his camera recorded the scandal from well inside, to the point that this isn’t a movie about Armstrong: it is about greed, about choosing individual glory to the detriment of your team and of believing your own lies because you couldn’t “let down” all those cancer patients you inspired.
So, after a disappointing early stage at the 2009 Tour de France, Armstrong throws himself on the bed and, looking at the ceiling, starts to break down.
“Trust me, this will not be the same if I don’t…” says Armstrong. “It’ll be hard. Harder than I thought.”
Gibney was there when the surprise drug tests began, he spoke to all the key members in the story, from Armstrong doctors to former teammates and, especially, to possibly the only true hero in this tale: Betsy Andreu, the wife of former teammate Frankie Andreu. She was the only one not intimidated by Armstrong, and a key reason for his eventual fall from grace.
“At some point people will say, ‘Here’s what happened,’” Armstrong tells Gibney. “Then they’ll judge for themselves. I don’t know what people will think in 30, 40, 50 years. Is the record book still going to be blank for seven years? I guess it will be, I don’t know. Or will they look at this in the context of what it is, and say, ‘Well, yeah… He won the Tour de France seven times’?”
It’s easy to dismiss Armstrong’s statement as proof that “he still hasn’t repented,” but he has a point, a small but solid one.
> Email Enrique Lopetegui