Thursday, July 24, 2014 at 5:45 AM

Vindication and Re-Glorification of Cyclist Greg LeMond

Posted by Anthony L. Hall

I am not a TV critic and, unlike so many on social media, I have no financial interest in recommending anything on this weblog. After watching ESPN’s 30 for 30: Slaying the Badger on Tuesday night, however, my first thought was that anyone who has any interest in sports must see this documentary film.

film-30for30-slayingbadger-poster-200But, instead of having you rely on my word, here’s a little of what real TV critic Debbie Emery wrote about it:

The film focuses on Greg LeMond, the first and only American to officially win cycling’s biggest race, and the man who was meant to be his mentor but instead became his tormenter during the 1986 Tour [i.e., pre-Lance Armstrong], five-time champion Bernard ‘The Badger’ Hinault.

‘ESPN was quick to see the value in the story of not only arguably the greatest race in the Tour’s century old history, but one with a rivalry up there alongside Borg versus McEnroe, Frazier and Ali … LeMond-Hinault.’

‘It is the simple rivalry of two guys who started off as friends — then one broke his promise — for a story that goes beyond cycling,’ [director John Dower] says of the documentary, where the betrayal was carried out against the backdrop of some of the most stunning mountains in the world.

(The Hollywood Reporter, July 22, 2014)

UnknownAs movie reviews go, I doubt you’ll ever read one more enticing than that. But, as the title to this commentary indicates, the entertainment this film provides is actually surpassed by the redeeming statement it makes about athletes using their natural abilities – instead of an apothecary of performance-enhancing drugs (PEDs) – to triumph. Which is why the menacing shadow of Lance Armstrong looms in every scene….

Of course, Emery alludes to this by hailing LeMond in her review as “the first and only American to officially win cycling’s biggest race.” And hers is only the latest in a determined effort to excise Armstrong and all he contaminated from the annals of cycling history. This began in 2012, when the United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) stripped him of all cycling titles, including his seven Tour de France championships, as well as all prize money won since 1998.

I don’t mind admitting that, just as it is with Tiger Woods and golf, I was more interested in Armstrong’s personal story than I was in cycling. This is why, even though riders are currently competing in this year’s Tour, I haven’t bothered to watch a single stage. Frankly, this annual race barely registered in my consciousness until Armstrong began his improbable comeback from cancer to win it for the first time in 1998.

The rest, alas, is history seared so deeply into public consciousness that I fear it will defy all efforts to excise it.

[Armstrong] was the boss of what USADA described as ‘the most sophisticated, professionalized and successful doping program that sport has ever seen.’

What’s more, it speaks volumes about his guilt that he chose not to even contest the USADA findings. No doubt he did this because, after spending the past few years insisting that his only accusers are one disgruntled former teammate and jealous people like former Tour champion Greg LeMond, USADA was prepared to confront him with 26 unimpeachable accusers, including 11 former teammates and his personal aide.

(“Armstrong Exposed as Cycling’s Doper Don,” The iPINIONS Journal, October 12, 2012)

More to the point, though:

The real tragedy here is not Lance falling from grace, but the disillusionment this is bound to cause among the millions of cancer survivors who derived life-sustaining inspiration from his ‘LIVESTRONG’ life story. That his life story is turning out to be a phenomenal fraud is devastating enough for me. I can only imagine the impact it’s having, and will have, on them.

(“Lance Armstrong: Falling from Grace,” The iPINIONS Journal, May 24, 2011)

My related commentaries will attest that I have written rather extensively on Armstrong’s sensational rise and fall – complete with each commentary evincing commensurate emotion. But these two selected quotes betray not just how eager I was to ride along as he cheated his way to glory, but also how inclined I was to help him discredit detractors like LeMond as disgruntled or jealous rivals.

6a00d83451b18a69e2014e89ad5706970dWell, I have long since come to my senses about Armstrong, and duly repented for hailing him with cult-like admiration. But this film documents why LeMond was actually worthy of that kind of admiration.

After all, it not only shows how he won three Tours against seemingly insurmountable odds, but also chronicles a personal story that rivals the most compelling part of Armstrong’s (Grimm) fairy tale: coming back from a life-threatening injury of his own to win two of them … without using PEDs.

I cannot say any more without giving away too much of the film. Therefore, I shall end by sharing the overwhelming, even if conflicting, emotions I felt after watching it:

sports_biggest_drug_scandals_embed

I felt joy for having so much of my disillusionment cleansed. To be fair, Armstrong’s cheating was not the only cause of it. In fact, everyone from Marion Jones to Barry Bonds had imbued me with such cynicism that I woke up every day expecting to read breaking news about Usain Bolt or Michael Phelps testing positive for PEDs.

I felt regret for having joined millions around the world in heaping praise and adulation upon Armstrong that should have been heaped upon LeMond. The immediate recognition that there’s simply no way we can ever compensate LeMond for this sensational oversight only compounded my regret. Hence, their respective reversals of fortune must strike him as rather like having the lie printed in bold caps on the front page, but the retraction or correction buried in fine print on an inside page, which nobody reads.

qtjpjmbx-1358646150Nevertheless, I suspect LeMond will take whatever vindication and redemption comes with the release of this documentary film. But I hope it compels people to heap more praise and adulation upon him than Armstrong ever enjoyed. After all, there can be no better manifestation in sports of good triumphing over evil than the juxtaposition of LeMond cycling to glory in this film with Armstrong confessing his sins to Oprah.

So here’s to this image of LeMond becoming his lasting legacy, as surely as that image of Armstrong will become his.

Related commentaries:
Armstrong dapper don
Lance confesses

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