Oscar winning documentary filmmaker Alex Gibney wanted to make a film about cyclist Lance Armstrong’s career comeback in 2009, and ending up getting way more than he signed on for. The filmmaker traveled around the globe in 2009 with Armstrong as he competed, with the intent of creating a positive film documenting the Tour de France winner’s successful comeback. Instead, Gibney landed smack in the middle of the former Olympian’s doping scandal, and got all of the information and access on the implosion of Armstrong’s career from an insider’s perspective. When Gibney realized what was actually going on with Armstrong, he scrapped the idea of making a film detailing the storied career of a celebrated athlete in favor of telling the truth about a person who was, in fact, a liar and a cheater. His status as a trusted figure in Armstrong’s circle helped him gain access and expose the side of Armstrong that nobody was able to see until his doping came to light. The finished film, “The Armstrong Lie,” which has played at the Venice and Toronto Film Festivals, will open in the United States on November 8.
The original concept for the film was one of inspiration and redemption, following a champion cyclist, seven time Tour de France winner and Olympic medalist as he attempted to become a winner once again after battling cancer. Now, the world knows the story is a very different one. Following a special interview with Oprah Winfrey that aired back in January of this year, the public realized the athletic “hero” was nothing more than a human being who had made some startlingly bad decisions and then lied to cover them up for years. Now, with the new film set to debut later this year, Armstrong’s former fans and detractors will get the chance to see Armstrong as Gibney did: a man who shed some of the cocky and sure demeanor he usually carried in favor of glimpses of the real Armstrong, one who was slightly defeated and even vulnerable. However, it’s clear that Armstrong has lied so hard for so long that it’s become very difficult for him to tell the truth, even now. In the film, Armstrong says he lived a big lie, doping and receiving blood transfusions and vehemently denying it for years, saying with confidence that he never believed he would be caught.
Even during filming, the former cyclist, who has been stripped of all seven of his Tour de France wins and his Olympic medal and banned from the sport of cycling for life, still says he didn’t dope during the 2009 Tour de France, one of the races he competed in while Gibney was gathering footage for his film. In a May interview with Gibney, Armstrong was very resolute in his denial that he did any doping during that race, a statement the filmmaker had a hard time buying. A blood sample taken from Armstrong during that time showed he may have received a blood transfusion, which is banned, making it difficult to believe he was clean, or that he has the ability to come clean about it!
Many of Armstrong’s detractors are happy that the film dares to tell the real story about the disgraced athlete, especially those who were discredited or bullied by Armstrong himself as he tried in vain to hold his unraveling career together. Two people, Betsy Andreau and Johnathan Vaughters, were actually on hand for the film’s debut at the Toronto Film festival, and Andreau had praise for the filmmaker for his refusal to believe the lies of the former cycling champion. Andreau is the wife of former teammate Frankie Andreau, and was actually one of the few people who went on record about Armstrong’s doping, a move that brought her much distress as Armstrong went to great lengths to discredit and vilify her at the time. She claimed that while Armstrong was in the hospital receiving cancer treatment, a doctor asked him if he ever used performance enhancers, and he named at least five. At the time, everyone was on board with “Team Lance,” so Andreau’s position of refusing to lie for him automatically made her an outcast.
Whether the film “The Armstrong Lie” causes viewers to form a different opinion about Lance Armstrong, or just shake their heads and lump him into that category of “just another cheating athlete,” it does seem to be one more loop in Armstrong’s downward spiral. In addition to his stripped titles and lifetime ban, the cyclist is also being asked by the International Olympic Committee to physically give back his bronze medal from the 2000 Sydney Summer Games. Plus, Armstrong is also involved in a lawsuit with a Nebraska insurance company over 3 million dollars in insurance fraud. Armstrong will be required to testify under oath in a Texas courtroom detailing exactly how he cheated in order to prove or disclaim Armstrong was involved in a conspiracy to cover up the fraud.
Just like the movie, the end of this tale is turning out to be one without a happy ending for the man who was once cycling’s greatest hero.