‘I’m going to tell you my truth and my truth is not my version, my truth is the way I remember it.’
Lance Armstrong sets the scene near the start of ESPN’s latest 30 for 30 documentary, simply titled ‘LANCE’.
Just one week after the last two episodes of ‘The Last Dance’ were made available around the world, another sporting icon arrives on our screen. Whereas that story of Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls had access to a vault full of previously unseen footage, there has been plenty said, written and broadcast about Lance Armstrong over the years, so what can this new documentary actually bring to those who know the story so well?
Part one of two starts at the very beginning. Lance Armstrong as he now is, was born Lance Edward Gunderson. His mother, Linda Gayle was seventeen years old when she gave birth to him and she and his father Eddie separated when Lance was just two – Linda had been abused during their relationship. Linda married Terry Armstrong shortly afterwards and Terry adopted Lance when he was three years old, and that’s when Lance’s surname changed. Terry isn’t the saviour of the story however and Lance recalls Terry using physical punishment on him when he grew up. Terry appears briefly and says:
‘Lance would not be the champion he is today without me, because I drove him. I drove him like an animal. That’s the only thing I feel bad about: Did I make him too much ‘win at all costs’?’
We hear how Armstrong joined a swim club when he was twelve years old and because it was relatively late in his childhood, he had to swim with the six year olds, which was for him an extremely embarrassing experience.
Before specialising in cycling, Lance competed in triathlons, but there was an issue – Lance needed to be sixteen to compete, but he wasn’t. Rather than wait until he was, he and his mother forged his birth certificate, an early form of cheating which was justified in their minds because Lance would win and prove himself to be the best.
As the documentary rolls on into adulthood, we see Armstrong specialise in road cycling and hear from his peers at the time, including Bobby Julich who was the great young hope of USA cycling in the late 1980’s and you get a feel for Armstrong’s competitiveness which was simply unrelenting and not just restricted to sporting excellence.
Armstrong’s early professional success leads to financial riches but fame was limited. Road cycling just wasn’t a big deal in the USA. It was only after a successful fight against testicular cancer and a subsequent win in the Tour de France in 1999, that sponsors and the American public started to really embrace him and that’s where the episode ends.
As a long term cycling fan and someone who believed the myth of Lance Armstrong for far too long, I’ve absorbed plenty over the years about the man, but I’m pleased to say that the first two hours of this documentary taught me some new stuff. I also think that it’s something that non-cycling fans or viewers that know little about Armstrong can watch easily. There’s a good balance of interviewees, including Armstrong himself, who was interviewed eight times for the documentary. There’s plenty of rarely seen footage too which adds to the feeling of freshness. Like any good two part television programme it ends when you don’t want it to and I’m really looking forward to the second instalment next week. Like ‘The Last Dance’ I know how the story ends, but how it gets there should make for an entertaining conclusion.
*Part one of ‘30 for 30: LANCE’ was shown on ESPN on Monday night and is repeated at various times this week. Part two will premiere on ESPN on Monday 1st June at 11pm.
Follow Aiden on Twitter