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April 24, 2014

Film examines Lance Armstrong's fall

The Daily Star

---- — There’s nothing more heartwarming than someone overcoming impossible odds and achieving the pinnacle of success. The last thing you want is for that story to fall apart. When it happens to an icon like Lance Armstrong it’s even more difficult to accept. He is someone you’d want to admire since he was both a champion and a do-gooder. How does the public react when it all comes crashing down?

A new documentary in the library’s DVD collection, “The Armstrong Lie,” tells the tale of Armstrong’s rise and fall from glory. Filmmaker Alex Gibney was planning to make a movie of Armstrong’s return to compete in the Tour de France a couple of years after retiring. Instead, with all the fallout and his admitting to drug use his film took on a different tact.

For those that don’t know, Lance Armstrong battled back from testicular cancer to win the Tour de France cycling race seven straight years (1999-2005). It is the most famous and arduous bike race in the world. To achieve what he did after suffering through cancer treatment is as inspiring a story as you could imagine. Armstrong retired after his seventh Tour de France championship and dedicated his life to raising money for cancer research. He defined the word “hero.”

There had been rumblings for years that Armstrong was taking performance enhancing drugs, including blood doping. Many other riders were nailed with sanctions for testing positive. And it was clear the sport was riddled with corruption. With all the accusations hurled Armstrong’s way it was hard to ignore them. Although his defense was he never tested positive there are ways to mask such a result. It’s also hard to believe he could stay clean when just about everyone else was cheating.

Bringing down a hero isn’t easy. Armstrong was defiant and self-righteous, fanatically denying any drug use and threatening to sue anyone who accused him of doping. His fans lived in denial and much of the media gave him the benefit of the doubt. They simply bought into the hoax. Even people who knew better figured his work for cancer research made up for his cheating.

The worst part was the way Armstrong and his apologists pilloried his teammates and fellow competitors who testified to his drug use. They were trashed and ostracized and accused of lying out of jealousy and spite.

In the end the mountain of evidence started to weigh too heavily against Armstrong. He was facing a lifetime ban from the sport. Perhaps deciding that coming forward would eventually allow him to regain his reputation he admitted he cheated to Oprah Winfrey in a nationally televised interview. He fessed up but seemed to lack remorse for all the people he denigrated along the way.

“The Armstrong Lie” covers the whole scandal in detail. It is not only comprehensive but is delivered in a fair and balanced manner. Armstrong even cooperated with it. Gibney doesn’t make excuses for the cyclist but he also doesn’t go out of his way to malign him either. He is stunned by the film’s change in direction but handles it in a very professional manner.

Nobody likes to see such a great champion fall from grace. Fifteen years ago Armstrong would have been a great story if he had simply recovered from his cancer and competed cleanly in the Tour de France. But it wasn’t enough. Ironically, Armstrong doesn’t think he “cheated” because everyone else was doing it.

Armstrong would have been a hero if he had just competed. Now he is much like everyone else who has a great story but doesn’t live up to it. “The Armstrong Lie” is a solid documentary that will help you understand and appreciate the cyclist’s odyssey and everything it entails. 

David Kent is the director of the Village Library of Cooperstown. He can be reached at Please note that all book reviews are for titles that the Village Library has available for rental.