The former undisputed GOAT who dominated his sport decades ago reflects in present day about his fiercely competitive mindset:
‘‘In my mind, I would have to make up these little rivalries, even if they didn’t exist, and get my hate on.’’
Sounds like an outtake from an interview with Michael Jordan for ‘‘The Last Dance,’’ but that comment is made by Lance Armstrong in the two-part ESPN documentary ‘‘Lance,’’ with the first part airing at 8 p.m. Sunday and the second May 31.
A two-part documentary airing at 8 p.m. May 24 and 31 on ESPN.
Jordan and the Bulls won six titles from 1990-91 to 1997-98. Armstrong won the Tour de France seven consecutive times in 1999-2005. Jordan and the Bulls still have their six trophies. Armstrong has none, having been removed from the record books after an investigation found he long had been using performance-enhancing drugs.
One of the most decorated bicyclists ever, a breakout star who overcame a near-fatal bout with cancer and became a renowned advocate through his Livestrong organization, an A-list celebrity who soaked up the spotlight and hung out with Matthew McConaughey while romancing Sheryl Crow and Kate Hudson — all of it came crashing down when the longtime rumors about Armstrong and PEDs turned out to be true.
With a total running time of more than three hours, ‘‘Lance’’ is an unblinking deep dive into Armstrong’s story, with Armstrong giving director Marina Zenovich extraordinary access through a series of extensive interviews and candid behind-the-scenes moments.
Armstrong, 48, expresses remorse about some of his actions, but he still has a massive ego and a Type AAAAA personality; nobody’s a bigger fan of Armstrong than Armstrong. But he’s also keenly aware he forever will be branded a cheater and a fraud by some.
Armstrong tells of standing in front of a restaurant when a car pulls up across the street and a guy gets out and says: ‘‘Hey, Lance! F--- you! F--- you, f--- you, f--- you!’’ Eventually, it’s six or seven people, all yelling, ‘‘F--- you, you f------ cheater!’’ Armstrong went into the restaurant, gave the manager his credit card and said he’d be picking up the bill for that group. But the manager had to say: ‘‘Guys, Lance took care of everything, and he sends his love.’’ A self-pleased Armstrong then says: ‘‘Some people just can’t chill the f--- out. They’ll be forever pissed.’’
The sports journalist Bonnie Ford says of Armstrong, ‘‘He does evoke a strong response, positive or negative,’’ and ain’t that the truth. About a third of the film is backstory biopic, and you can’t help but feel empathy for Armstrong and his mother, Linda Armstrong Kelly, who had Lance when she was just 17. Lance’s biological father was a non-factor, and his stepfather, Terry Armstrong, admits on camera he was a ‘‘strict disciplinarian. . . . I didn’t show him the love I should have.’’
Growing up in Texas, Armstrong tried to play team sports, such as football and baseball, but said he didn’t have the speed or the hand-eye coordination. So he took up swimming and triathlons before setting his laser focus on competitive cycling. He quickly took the sport by storm, all the while alienating just about everyone who came into contact with him.
By all accounts, including Armstrong’s, he was a manipulative, self-centered bully who cared about one thing: himself. Whether it’s archival film or current-day footage, there’s something about him more reminiscent of a cunning Bond villain than an All-American role model. Even when he admits to taking PEDs since he was 21, Armstrong almost sounds boastful when he says: ‘‘I always knew what I was taking. I educated myself on what was being given, and I chose to do it.’’
One has to admire Armstrong’s courage and resolve in 1996, when he was diagnosed with advanced testicular cancer that had metastasized to his brain. A doctor says he told Lance he had a 20% to 50% chance of survival but inflated the percentages just to give him hope. In present day, Armstrong remembers wondering how one of the fittest people in the world could get cancer.
‘‘Do you think you got cancer because of the doping?’’ comes the question.
‘‘The only thing I will tell you is, the only time in my life I did growth hormones was the 1996 season,’’ Armstrong said. ‘‘If anything good needs to be grown, it does. But wouldn’t it also make sense if anything bad is there, it, too, would be grown?’’
In Part 2 of the doc, Armstrong is asked, ‘‘Do you feel like you want to be relevant again?’’
‘‘This is going to sound terrible,’’ Armstrong says, ‘‘but I AM relevant. I am.’’
Armstrong talks a good game about starting anew, rebuilding frayed relationships and moving to the next chapters of his life. But when he speaks of a former teammate and fellow doper-turned-whistleblower, he says: ‘‘I could be Floyd Landis, waking up [as] a piece of s--- every day.’’
And as for his past transgressions, including horrible treatment of anyone he perceived to be an enemy, he says things such as: ‘‘I was an idiot, and I was in attack mode” and ‘‘I was a f------ a------.’’ We believe he means what he says, but the jury is out on whether he FEELS what he says.
‘‘I took advantage of my stature, and for that I’m deeply sorry. I wish I could change that; I wish I could have been a better man. All I can do is say I’m sorry and move on. And hope that others do, too.
‘‘[It comes down to] how do you sleep at night? Can you live with yourself? And I can.’’
Of that, we have no doubt.