A new Lance Armstrong documentary examines the bizarre turn of events that transformed him from one of the most admired athletes of all time to a social pariah. “The Armstrong Lie,” which was directed by Oscar winner Alex Gibney, examines how the cycling icon’s hubris played into his epic downfall.
“In terms of his ability to be a liar and to be a cover-up artist, he is at the tippy-top,” Gibney told ABC News. “He is the very best.”
In 2009, Gibney originally set out to chronicle Armstrong’s triumph over testicular cancer and his Tour de France comeback following a four-year hiatus.
He completed the film three years ago but was forced to rework it after Armstrong’s former teammate, Floyd Landis, confessed in 2010 that he, Armstrong, and all of their U.S. Postal Service teammates had been part of a sophisticated systematic doping ring.
While making the original pro-Lance documentary, Gibney was given unprecedented access to Armstrong’s life for a whole year. Looking back — and knowing what he knows now — Gibney said Armstrong’s cavalier attitude was part of his undoing.
“There was …. a sense of ‘hubris’ that ‘nobody is ever going to discover my lie, so come along for the ride,’ ” said Gibney, who added that Armstrong’s vindictive pursuit of anyone who accused him of doping made him many enemies who were happy to see him fall.
“It was Lance’s abuse of power that was really the most reprehensible thing, and that is how people really get offended by this story,” he said. “Part of it was the way he went after people, part of it was the way he actually wrapped himself in the mantle of the cancer survivor.”
In August 2012, the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency stripped Armstrong of his seven Tour de France titles. In January 2013, Armstrong confessed to Oprah Winfrey that he had doped during much of his career.
Gibney spoke to Lance after the Oprah interview and asked why he ever started down that road. Armstrong, now 42, explained that all the top cyclists during his era had doped (this was true), and that he had to do it in order to level the playing field.
“There was a group of us primarily living in Italy and we just said we either have to play ball here or go home,” said Lance. “Maybe I’d approach the decision differently today, but at the time I didn’t lose sleep over it.”
Gibney is troubled that Armstrong continues to justify his actions to this day, and that so many people bought into Lance’s inspiring story as a cancer patient who defied the odds to become the greatest cyclist of all time.
“People don’t like that truth as much as they liked the beautiful lie,” said Gibney. “And that’s a hard thing for Lance to accept, because he found much more affection in telling the beautiful lie than the ugly truth.”