Seven years after confessing to doping and being stripped of his seven Tour de France victories, Lance Armstrong is creeping back into the sports spotlight. That return gave documentarian Marina Zenovich a unique opportunity for a no-topics-barred interview for her new ESPN documentary “Lance.”
Zenovich spoke with TheWrap’s Steve Pond at the Sundance Film Festival earlier this year about working on the project, which was offered to her by ESPN after Armstrong agreed to participate. She notes that it was a different situation than the past documentaries she has worked on, as she had her main subject ready to talk to her when she started rather than having to spend time convincing them to let her make a movie about them.
“I was interested in tackling this because I was told I could ask him anything,” Zenovich said. “I’m not really a journalist. I’m a documentary filmmaker. It’s not like I’m Barbara Walters where I’m going after someone, but I felt like I could and he was willing to kind of go there.”
Through the 2000s, Lance Armstrong became arguably the biggest inspirational story in American sports, recovering from advanced cancer to win an unprecedented seven consecutive Tour de France titles from 1999 to 2005.
As only the second American to win the world’s most prestigious bike race, Armstrong propelled cycling to unprecedented popularity in the U.S., getting team sponsorships from the U.S. Postal Service and Discovery Channel while starting a fashion fad with the yellow Livestrong rubber bracelets that donated all proceeds to cancer research.
But even as Armstrong racked up the wins and the fame, accusations that he and his team cheated through blood doping surrounded him, particularly in the French press. Armstrong defended himself from the accusations through passionate speeches in public and vicious attacks against his accusers in private.
In addition to speaking with Armstrong about his career and downfall, Zenovich also spoke with his teammates, family, and accusers for the documentary. Their recollections of Armstrong paint a picture of a competitive, vindictive athlete whose tendency to taunt his competition to keep himself motivated also led him to insult and threaten those who tried to expose his wrongdoing.
“It was interesting to meet with people who had accepted his apology and people who feel he didn’t apologize enough,” Zenovich says. “It was a look at how people live with themselves, how they live with something that was done to them.”
The end finally came for Armstrong in 2012, thanks in good part to the testimony of former teammates like Floyd Landis, who was also stripped of his 2006 Tour de France title after getting caught doping. But even now, years after losing over $100 million in sponsorship deals and being banned from cycling for life, Zenovich didn’t seem to sense a great deal of remorse from him.
“He plays games,” she said. “He’s trying to control me a little bit, I’m trying to manipulate him a little bit. I think he was honest. He tells me, ‘Marina, I’m not going to lie to you,’ but everyone else tells me, ‘Oh, he’s going to lie to you.'”
“Lance” is currently airing on ESPN. Watch Zenovich’s thoughts on the film in the clip above.
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