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TV Wrap - New documentary proves we have heard more than enough from Lance Armstrong

The disgraced cyclist is the subject of a new, two-part ESPN series.

A still of Lance Armstrong from the ESPN series, Lance.
A still of Lance Armstrong from the ESPN series, Lance.

IF ARMSTRONG HAD it all his own way, ESPN would have followed The Last Dance with The Miscast Lance, in which the titular hero says, ‘Sure, I did some bad things – and look at how earnestly I repent! – but hey, they weren’t all my fault and, anyway, why haven’t y’all moved on already?’

Instead Marina Zenovich’s two-part documentary on Armstrong  is merely called “Lance.” (It was shown here on BT Sport and is available to watch now on the ESPN Player.)

This is Lance’s latest Confessional, following on from his Confessional with Dan Roan of the BBC, in which he lamented the timing of his Confessional with Oprah. (He’s done so many of these at this point that Bryan Curtis wrote for Grantland that Armstrong should “donate his body to sportswriting.”)

He’s still not over himself. 

“Some people just can’t chill the fuck out. They are pissed still, and they will be pissed forever.”

This series is Armstrong’s latest effort to wrestle and bend the narrative in his favour, and this time he may have been influenced by I, Tonya, the Margot Robbie-starring biopic of Tonya Harding that leaves objective fact in a similar state to Nancy Kerrigan’s knee.

That movie ends with Robbie saying, “Everyone has their own truth, and life does whatever the fuck it wants…that’s the story of my life, and that’s the fucking truth”, and this one begins with Armstrong promising not to lie to Zenovich, telling her “I’m going to tell you my truth.”

That movie delves into Harding’s brutal and bruised upbringing in a broken home and this does likewise with Armstrong. His stepfather appears early in the first episode on camera and admits to beating Armstrong as a child, dubiously claiming, “Lance would not be the champion he is today without me because I drove him. I drove him like an animal.”

Harding earned a standing ovation at the premiere of I,Tonya, but Lance is unlikely to be similarly rehabilitated.

The weight of reality is just too much: his lies were too numerous and their impact too vast.

At one point he defends his book, It’s Not About The Bike, by saying everything in there was true…except for the bits about doping.

At least he can forever stand over the accuracy of that title.

Of course it’s not just about the doping, either: it’s about the lies told and the lives damaged.

Armstrong can no longer pretend he hasn’t doped, so here he portrays himself as being forced into that choice by a needle-ridden sport; just another powerless victim of some awesome cosmic tragedy.

He shirks responsibility in talking about it, saying the decision to take EPO was the choice “we had to make.”

Who’s we? He had to make it, and he made it. Then he lied about it, and then lied about it some more.

Armstrong mythologises himself as a pathological competitor, saying he needed to dream up rivals and battles on his bike to “get my hate on”, but that is incompatible with “his truth”.

Why would such a fierce competitor claim he could do nothing but cave to the system?

Once he had beaten cancer and his riding career became intertwined with the Livestrong message, he says he couldn’t tell the truth as the charity’s momentum and profitability would come tumbling down.

He could have told the truth, of course, but chose not to. Armstrong has apologised to some people and said he is pained by his shameful treatment of Emma O’Reilly, but on the basis of this documentary he has yet to fully reckon with the notion of personal responsibility.

The greatest cognitive dissonance of Armstrong’s repent is his attempt to dilute his own exceptionalism. The documentary ends with his rage at the public hounding of some busted dopers – Marco Pantani, Jan Ulrich and, of course Lance Armstrong – while others – Ivan Basso, Erik Zabel, and George Hincapie – are, in his words, “idolised and glorified.”

Armstrong may want to believe he’s Just Another Doper, but he’s not. He was an exception during his career and now he’s an exception in retirement: ESPN aren’t making four-hour documentary series on any other cheating cyclists.

The series does its job in not letting him off the hook, but it also reminds us that we don’t need to hear anything more from Lance Armstrong for a while.

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About the author:

Gavin Cooney

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