The Anatomy of The Armstrong Lie: a story of cycling, doping and betrayal - Episode 19

By Sean Cottrell

The Armstrong Lie CoverIn this exclusive LawInSport interview, Sean Cottrell, LawInSport’s founder, speaks with two of Hollywood’s biggest producers, Frank Marshall and Matt Tolmach (responsible between them for blockbusters  such as Back to the Future, Indiana Jones, Jason Bourne, The Amazing Spiderman, etc) about their latest work, a documentary titled ‘The Armstrong Lie’. 

The film provides a forensic look at the Lance Armstrong story, one of the biggest scandals to hit sports in recent times. The story of the making of the film is itself incredible; starting life in 2009 to document Armstrong’s return to the Tour de France, filming was interrupted mid-production by Lance’s confession to the team that he had been doping. With the premise of the film obsolete, Lance asked if the film could be used to break the story, but the timing meant he chose to appear on Oprah Winfrey first. Post Oprah, the team ran with the revelations, secured their own exclusive interview with Lance, and pivoted to document the darker side of the man and the sport.

In this interview, Frank and Matt tell Sean what it was like spending time with Lance, give their inside take on the story, and reflect on its wider implications for sport.

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Note: this has been adpated for print for the ease of reader.  


Sean:  Thank you ever so much for taking the time out. I’ve had the privilege of watching the documentary it is both fascinating and captivating. I’m not sure what it was like for you guys filming and producing it, but it bought up more questions than delivered answers for me. One of the first points that really struck a chord with me was that at the beginning Lance says, “we do not know the truth yet”, and I wondered, what do you think he means by this?


Frank:  It’s an interesting question, Sean. It seems that Lance’s answers come out in dribs and drabs, in my opinion, depending on how he thinks he can shape his own story. I think there are probably a lot of other people involved in this, as we know, that period of cycling was very dirty, you know it just doesn’t happen; Lance didn’t just go to the drug store and buy EPO or PED’s, so there are a lot of other people involved, and certainly I think one of his references, when he says that in the documentary he hadn’t done his second interview, where he talks about the collusion of the UCI and other outside governing bodies; so I think there’s still a lot, not really big things, to come out, but probably the details.



Matt:  I think that’s exactly right.  You know, when Frank and I flew to Austin (when was that Frank, a year and a half ago?) prior to the Oprah interview, and that was the day that Lance, “came clean” with us, right away part and parcel of his admission about the doping was a certain air of, “hey, if I’m going to tell the truth, if the truth’s going to come out, then the whole truth is going to come out”, and what he meant by that, and I think it’s the same thing that he’s alluding to in the documentary, is what Frank’s saying, that: “it’s all too easy to make me the sole villain in this piece, but there’s a bigger story here, and if that story’s going to come out, then all of it’s going to come out”, and he’s been pretty consistent about that all along.



Frank:  Well, I also think the interesting thing, Sean, is, as you heard there in London, there was this sort of flurry about a month ago with these revelations, talking about […] and backdated prescriptions and all that. All of that’s in the movie. We had those stories way early, and so that’s nothing new, he’s not telling anything new there, and really what we look at is the movie as a anatomy of a lie, we’re looking at how this all went down, how could this possibly have all gone on for what, ten, twelve years? We’re not in it to have these big revelations that are going to come out in the movie, but it’s an examination of how this was all possible.



Sean:  I totally agree with you. When I was watching it I was thinking how I used to watch the Tour de France when I was a kid, even then we knew the problems that were in cycling, it was apparent to everyone, but people wanted a hero, they found a hero. Why do you think the whole debate [about Lance’s guilt] got framed around him not failing a test? Why do you think people were so willing to ignore the signs? When you looked at performance levels and the power output levels it seemed obvious. Why do you think that was the case?



Matt:  I think that’s the power of this story, and I think, and we’ve said it all along, and Frank and I felt it and lived it, this was the greatest story in the world, and all of us live in a culture where story telling and advertising and just in every day life is a big part of what we do. I think there’s also a part of us that wants to believe that it’s possible, that greatness and miracles, as Lance said arrogantly after he won the tour in 05, that those things are possible, and I think it was intoxicating. I know, speaking personally, that when I first started to hear about Lance, I read the book, the Sally Jenkins book, and I started to hear more and more about Lance Armstrong. It was a mythic story of a man overcoming cancer, from a poor background with no father, and flying to a foreign country and sort of putting the smack-down on a sport in a far-off land, it was too good to be true, but we love those stories. So, I think even in the face of, certainly the evidence was less damming but, it was always there that noise, I felt, Frank felt, we felt, like we want to believe, we want to believe in that stuff. It’s what we do all day long, I mean we make movies, we tell stories, and I remember feeling like, yeah, I don’t want to be one of the cynics I want to lean into this, and the complicating factor in the story has always been that he was also [   ] we spent time with him at children’s hospitals,  and it’s not a simple story of good verses evil and so there was a whole other element to it that allowed you to sort of suspend disbelief, even in the face of evidence, you just didn’t want to hear it, you wanted to be someone that believed, and I think that’s true for lot of people. I think what happened is that when the truth did come out, people where angry because people felt really duped, personally, they were roped into something against their better judgment, and they’re angry about it, but I think that’s why we all allowed ourselves to go down the road.



Frank:  I think that’s true of the general public now; they want to believe these broad myths or stories, that’s how the whole lie was hiding in plain sight. People like to say it’s right or wrong, or it’s a black hat or it’s a white hat, but it’s really grey in this case, because, as Matt said, we saw Lance have real affection and concern for the people that have gone through cancer like he did, and he did a lot of good for people for a long time, but it doesn’t balance out the other stuff he did, but it really makes for a complicated story.



Sean:  What do you think the risk is of us sports fans, the general public, falling for this again? With out need to find a hero in sport, to find a compelling story, what do you think this Lance Armstrong affair has taught us? Have we learned anything from it? Are we still at risk of being duped again?



Frank:  I think people are going to be much more skeptical of these incredible accomplishments, I hate to say that but I think that’s what’s happening.  But I also believe that it’s naive to say that nobody in Sochi has taken part in a drug programme. I don’t think sport it’s ever going to be clean, and people are always out to win at all costs, and to go for the glory and money and everything that’s out there so it’s human nature, but I think that people are going to be much more diligent about accepting some of the incredible stories.



Matt:  You know it’s funny, I don’t know if you guys picked up on this but there was a piece that ran last night on CNN, and maybe its been out there for a while so forgive me, it was the first I heard of it, about this guy he was claiming he was a cast away at sea for a year. It’s really fascinating, and there is immediately a tremendous amount of backlash and cynicism about whether or not he actually, because he’s heavy-set and people are like, well wait a minute, he got off the boat after a year of eating turtles and fish, when did he catch them and how did he catch them?… Life of Pi wasn’t real. I felt it’s funny you’re asking, because I was sitting watching it with my family, I immediately thought this is the other side, this is culturally the result of being fooled over and over again, is that immediately when something like this happens, we think maybe that he’s a fraud, it may be that he’s telling the truth, but immediately everybody jumps to the sort of cynical take on these stories, and I do think that’s going to be the legacy of, not just Lance, but a lot of athletes and a lot of truths that have been revealed, and honestly I think that’s good and bad. I think it’s going to hold people to a much higher standard; they’ll not going to be able to actively deceive people, on the other hand there’s a part of me that thinks it’s kind of a drag, that you don’t get to believe in anything anymore, so I think it’s a mixed bag, but in the end Frank and I are big believers in fair play and truth in sport so, that’s a great outcome. I just think as a society we’re learning day by day to be more skeptical.



Sean:  I asked some of our advisory board and editorial board, they’re sports lawyers, a lot of them had their hearts broken by the revelations from Lance, about this and they want to know what was it like to be inside and outside of the “Armstrong Bubble” as such?



Matt:  Well, Frank was in it the longest of all of us so, Frank, do you want to start?



Frank:  Yeah, I think it was, as you’d expect, it was fantastic. I still have a tremendous appreciation for Lance’s talent on the bike, he still beat everybody for seven tours in a row and being there to see that it’s…there’s a lot more that goes into winning those races than doping and seeing him at the end and being a part of that was extraordinary on a sports front, and to see all those athletes riding every day was pretty amazing and of course, being on the bus was great; I mean it was exciting and illuminating and definitely something I’ll always remember.  But then when that moment came when Matt and I sat in Lance’s library back in October 2012, it was devastating, and possibly the worst sports moment I’ve had. So being on the inside it was a crushing blow because I was sort of the last to cave in our group and I just felt horrible, it was a horrible feeling, he was letting everyone down including the people that we were making the movie for, not just on a personal but a professional level.  We knew Lance’s family, we knew his Mom, we knew his kids, we knew all of his close friends, it was devastating.



Sean:  Did you see a change in him before the confession? And, secondly, knowing when you did find out you said it was a crushing blow, did you feel part of his PR machine?



Matt:  The second part of that is a really interesting question, let me just say, the change in him, I’d say definitively, no.   I think even if you saw the Oprah interview, even when he made the confession there’s, he was still …I think in life for the most part all of us are who we are, in whatever the circumstances and Lance even in the middle of the Opera interview, was fighting.  You sort of got the feeling he was reluctantly confessing, and that’s very consistent with who he always was. He was always driving the story, he was always winning, he was always in control, and so right up until the night we sat in that library, it was all about his defense, and how people were on to him, and what the court case was going to be and it wasn’t about, you didn’t sense that this man was having a reckoning with his sole, at least we didn’t, but we weren’t there with him every day.  The PR question is really fascinating, because when we went down to Austin that October. Much of what Lance does he does for a reason, I think he’s very methodical in how he lives his life, and strategic, and a big part of the reason, or probably all of it. I would say he came clean with us that night was because he was exploring the possibility of coming clean to the public in our movie, and wanted to explore with us whether we would be open to, and the proper vehicle for, that happening, and a lot of it had to do with timing, and I don’t know if you know about the film making process, maybe you do, but film making is not like a live interview or even taped interview, it takes months and months and months to wrap up a movie and to release it and all of that.  And so a big part of the conversation was: “I’m going to come clean about what I’ve been doing, can we do that in the movie, when would it come out, how quickly could you do it” and when it became clear that the timeline for that wasn’t quick enough, just by virtue of the movie making process, he then did the deal with Oprah.  So absolutely he saw us as potentially part of the PR machine, and that was the reason he did it.  And look, I don’t think it ever would’ve worked out for him, because Alex Gibney isn’t that kind of a film maker, and I think Alex Gibney would’ve pressed him in a way that probably wouldn’t have made him comfortable, but yeah I think he saw us as guys who he had in the bubble for a long time.



Sean:  So let me just paint the picture then, so he’s sat you down and guys and said, “can you come to my library”, and then he says, “I’m coming clean, this is what I’ve done…”. Does Lance then immediately go into, “look guys, can you help me market this to help with the damage limitation”? Is that how it worked? If so, what did it make you feel like?



Frank:  No, it was really more…first of all; the original movie we made was pretty much finished.  We had put it on the shelf, which was the story of the comeback, the third place in 2009, so his first question was, well, "what’s happening with the movie", and we said nothing, “obviously our movie didn’t work now".  And so both Matt and I, being film makers as well, were feeling betrayed by this whole year of him talking to us and lying right into the camera; we were pretty upset and he said: “well, what are you going to do with the movie”, and our comeback was: “well, if you tell us to the camera what you’ve just told us in this room, then maybe we have a chance at re-cutting and having a movie”, because we didn’t have a movie yet, we said we don’t know, we have to go explore this, and so the next day we flew to NY, met with Alex, and then the three of us went to Sony Classics and pitched this new movie, so when he went to Opera without telling us we got screwed again. 



Sean:  That must have been tough to take on top of everything else, especially as you’re a big cycling fan, so how did you broach that relationship afterwards?



Matt:  [Laughing] We didn’t really, to be really honest with you. [Fragmented]



Frank:  [Laughing] It was cordial.  [Fragmented]



Sean:  Good, I although you are better people than me, because I wouldn’t have been able too.



Matt:  There hasn’t been a lot of hanging out since then.



Sean:  I can’t imagine why.  So, do you think with the damage he’s done to the sport, the damage he’s done to you guys and others there was ever a realization where he thought: I have hurt a lot of people, I’ve created mistrust in sport, I’ve done damage to sport, I’ve also betrayed the cancer victims and the people he was trying to help? Do you think there was ever a cold moment of realization that that’s what he’d done?



Matt:  I think to a degree, yes. I think I know enough people who are still in touch with him and you see and you hear what he’s doing, travelling around the world, and I think, through it all, and Frank and I agree on this, as bad as the lie was, and the betrayal - and it’s bad  (I think we’ve been pretty consistent about how we feel about it) what he did with LiveStrong and the legacy of that was something that he took very personally, obviously, and I think losing touch with that and seeing how much it hurt that effort, and so many of those people who believed in him, is probably the thing that weights on him the most. The rest of it is a little grey, and a little bit, “they were all doing it, and I was doing this and that”, but the personal impact of being removed from LiveStrong I think is something that probably haunts him and he probably regrets more than anything, that’s my hunch, Frank, I don’t know how you feel?



Frank:  Yes, I agree.  It’s been very hard for him to reckon with his failings off the bike, but I think he’s starting to understand how he hurt people and how he disappointed and betrayed people who believed in him. I think he was surprised at first at how big it was, he hadn’t realized how big the lie had become, and I do think it’s just difficult for him. He has this killer competitive side to him that drives that will to win, which is what we were interested in in the first movie, his will.



Sean:  So would you then still consider him, this is a difficult question, so feel free not to answer, do you think he’s still a winner?



Matt:  A winner?



Sean:  Yes, in the broader sense, is he still, with every thing that’s gone on?



Matt:  Do you mean is he a winner as in should he get the jerseys, or a winner in life?  What do you mean by that?



Sean:  I think a natural born winner.  Some argue that others were doping at the same time and he did achieve a lot. Taking it away from your opinion, do you think other people would still view him as a winner?



Frank:  I don’t think it is white and black; it’s a grey area.  Yes, he achieved a lot on the bike, but he had huge failings off the bike, so he’s not winning in life right now.



Matt:  I think with all of this, the revelations last year, the not winning category is now solidly outweighing the winning category. I think that if you poll people around the world they would certainly say, no.  I think the win for him now, if there is one out there still, is not in returning to sports glory or anything like that, I think it’s truth.  I think that’s what people want, and that’s just my opinion, and believe me he’s not asking me, but if he was I would say that that’s the win that’s left out there, is to really, really come clean, entirely without agenda… 



Frank:  ….without trying to craft the answer.  You want that moment when he feels there’s no legal jeopardy for him, and he can just sit down and spill the beans and talk about it, because as you’ll see in the Oprah interview, and even in ours, you can see him thinking about the answers before he gives it, and you just want him to spill the beans, without any reservation of thoughts of how he is going to guide the story, and I do think part of it is probably, as in the movie, there are a lot of people that he’s going to throw under the bus, and it’s just a very complicated question of loyalty and friendships and then legal jeopardy. If he does say everything and we would feel that it’s the truth, as Matt says, that would be a first, he could then move on. All of these guys, from Hamilton to Landis, they all say they feel this tremendous weight lifted from their shoulders when they tell the truth, the whole truth.



Matt:  You know, there’s a great moment in the movie, that I really, really love, and it was from the second, the latest interview that Alex did with Lance, and Lance was recounting some interactions with Ferrari, and how Ferrari had told him when to dope in the tour and the precautions he needed to take and all that stuff, and he quickly realizes – it was the year, it was either 1999 or 2000, it was the year he beat Pantani on Hautacam, and he quickly realizes in the middle of the interview with Alex, and it’s like it happened in real time in that interview, that he had already won the tour before he dosed - and he had this moment where he sort of looks up to the heavens, and he’s like: “I’d already won the tour”, and I’m taken by the moment because there are very few of these moments with Lance where you feel like you get the really nakedly honest, vulnerable person, because over the years he was so careful and cautious and measured, like a politician in the way he answered questions, and now we know why, he was always very carefully protecting his story, legally, but when he let’s his guard down, it’s kind of amazing, and I think that would be if there was a lot more of that, a lot more of, “consequences be damned – I’m just going to tell you what happened” and let it be a cautionary tale, and let it be a light, let it illuminate, let it be the building blocks for a new beginning, that’s a win – that’s a win, I think, or at least the beginning of one.



Sean:  Guys, that was a great answer to what was a terrible question that was a very good answer in deed, he is a fascinating character, even to this day because of the scale of his lie. Recounting, watching the documentary, I remember thinking, “ah, right, this is the real guy, right now”. I think I remember he sort of smiles a little bit “ahhh, what was I doing”.  

So, do you think you can ever see him being involved as an activist in favor of clean sport, or do you think that’s too difficult?



Matt: What do you think, Frank?



Frank:  Well, I don’t know, I think he has to come clean first. We’ve got to trust him however the problem is you’ve got him accused for doping, [and he is] denying everything, I mean nobody agrees on anything here. I think it’s kind of fascinating in our movie because, as you’ll see in the movie, we were perceived as a Lance puff-piece by all of the Lance haters, and they start coming around when they realize Alex really wanted to tell the truth. People like Betsy [Andreu] and other people we talked to, but some never came around, like Travis Tygart, who was the guy who brought him down; he refused to talk to him, so there are still people out there who don’t trust him or us, so I don’t know if he could be an advocate for cleaning up the sport.



Sean:  It would be interesting, with the Cookson Enquiry, to see what falls out is from that, and what, looking back on your documentary, to see what’s consistent with what is disclosed in that documentary.



Matt:  It was interesting for us when, after the documentary opened, and a lot of the conversations in the cycling news, and I’m sure you read it quicker than I do, but I read all of it, and so does Frank; a lot of it seemed to be drafting off the revelations from our movie, and we kind of sat back, Frank and I, and said “we said that that thing about Verbruggen, we said that”.  It was a very surreal process, and it made us wonder even if Lance hadn’t seen the movie, I think he maintains he has not. But a lot of the conversation that sort of seemed to just spontaneously spark up, I’m sure grew out of certain revelations and things in our movie, and so I wouldn’t be surprised if it goes back that way too, because the movie really does tap into and, again if you look at the Verbruggen thing, if you look at it all, maybe it’s just the beginning, but there’s a lot in there that looks like it would be worthy of further exploration.



Frank:  Yeah, and I would love for Alex to be able to sit down with Travis Tygart and ask him the questions.



Sean:  That would be really good. I would welcome that as well.



Frank:  Because we’d all like to know about 2009.  We were not able to get the data that they presented in the reasoned decision, which maybe it’s there but it becomes suspect when they won’t give it to you.



Sean:  Well, I’m sure, well I know he has, Travis has got a very interesting story himself, as a victim of the hate against him [for pursuing Armstrong], so I think you’re right it would close the circle.  One of the things I think has struck me, and I remember writing notes as I watch as I prepared, was the relationship between Ferrari and the scientists in the testing labs. Ferrari was able to get the information on what the latest tests were, whether or not that was done with the knowledge he was involved in doping, I don’t know, but it is something I haven’t given much consideration to before, but from watching the documentary it was something that was alarming, how easy it was for him [Ferrari] to get hold of that information.   



Matt:  Yes.



Frank:  Well, again, it’s human nature, Sean.  There’s much more money in beating the system than in trying to catch the cheats within the system. So all these guys are out there trying to beat it, because there’s money in it.



Sean: So what would you say then is the role of sponsors within this?  What do you see, maybe not necessarily with Lance, but going forward, as the role that sponsors should take in this?



Matt: Well, I read something really interesting recently, because the truth is, as a sometimes-cyclist and enormous fan I watch every year with baited breath, as the sponsors head for the hills and everybody scrambles to figure out if they’ve got a job and all of that, and the system is built so poorly, and so absolutely favors the whatever-it-takes-to-win mentality, because it’s survival. The minute the sponsors role up their tent, people are out of work, and so it’s not such a leap of faith to then to get to the place where people are willing to do whatever they can to get the results, if it’s purely about results in the short term then sponsors are upping for one or two or three years, then people by definition are going to do everything they can, or at least almost everything they can to try to get results. I don’t mean that everybody’s going to dope, but it brings that temptation, and I think that’s it’s different from the way certain sports franchise are managed and owned. I think in soccer, football and baseball, where it’s not a business model that needs good PR in the short term, but it’s a much longer-term relationship.  So, I think this sort of sponsor-based notion is flawed, I really do, because I we’re all in business. I understand that. Companies are signing up to sponsor teams, but it’s like bill boards, where do you buy a billboard, you buy a billboard that’s on the corner of the most trafficked street, and that’s the essence of that sort of advertising, and advertising is what’s driving the sport right now, I think it’s not a good idea, that’s just me personally, and I think it encourages temptation.



Frank: Yes, I think one of the things that will come out of this is that these companies will take a pause before they throw millions of dollars behind a story that’s just too good to be true, and an athlete who’s too good to be true. There are several big corporations that were really stung by this, who also believed [in Lance]; that makes me feel a little better. They’ll be a little more research-taking place I think. 



Sean: It’s a good point you make because, two things; one, not jumping in too quickly and taking that breath before coming to these agreements and doing their due diligence for sponsors is a very valid point.  And secondly there’s also, I’m not sure if you pick up on it over there, match fixing and integrity issues in sport in Europe – in snooker being one of them. In part, if there’s not enough money in sport, if it’s not being distributed down to the lower levels then the guys in the just below the top tier are going to be more inclined to accept bribes, to fix games or races of some sort just to find the quickest way to get money, because if they’re not at the top of the chain you won’t earn much money.  It’s a bit like boxing really, boxing is one of my sports, and it’s a flawed model in boxing for similar reasons. 



Frank: I definitely think there’s some version of a league, and again somebody was talking about this, one of the riders was advocating it, and think it’s a really good idea because; if the team that finishes last in the Tour is still covered and protected and all that, it just makes for a cleaner environment, and so I think it would be good if the conversation went there eventually.     



Sean: I guess sponsors need to look at better ways to create value, a better value proposition within the sport, to make it more long term, as you said, sustainable, rather than just relying solely on whoever is the winner gets the most money, and that’s the only person we’re going to market. So you lead me onto my final question then, which is: what lessons do you think have been learned from this for sport as a whole and, going forward, what would you like to see change if anything?



Frank: Well, I just think we have to be a little more realistic about putting these athletes on pedestals, and I think we have to realizes that there are consequences to the belief of “winning at all costs” and it’s not the best thing, and that hopefully looking at this, and what’s happened to Lance, and everyone else that’s come out and admitted it, certainly they were, maybe not as much as Lance, but everyone has suffered here, and so I think we have to be careful about what we are teaching our children. We’ve seen it in our ten-year-old soccer leagues, I’ve had to go to parents: “hey, it’s not the world cup! Let them have fun”, but you see the drive not only on the monetary side, but to get your kid into college, into the best college, because they’re on a volleyball scholarship. So maybe if think a little more about it, it wouldn’t hurt. All of this is bad for the ethical side and for the sports side, so hopefully people will think a little more before they tamper with their kids and with their body. That’s the other thing, who knows what damage this is all doing to your body? So the winning at all costs thing is a real problem I think, and hopefully this will illuminate it a bit.



Sean: And do you agree with that?



Matt: Yes, I’d say not only do I agree with it, I think it’s not just about the kids that are playing sports and their parents, it’s about those who are sitting at home and watching ESPN, and what is it as a culture that we’re really asking for?  Because I think it’s a complicated dynamic, which come first – the appetite for winning at all costs, or winning at all costs? I think we have to be honest about it in the media, those of us who create media, what stories are we highlighting, and what are we selling the people, because it’s a vicious circle. If all of the emphasis is on the guy who’s fastest and the guy who’s strongest, and the guy who hits hardest, it’s not about, the nobility of the guy who finishes 100th in the peloton, who’s still by all accounts a rock star, if you know anything about the sport, then we’re going to end up in the same place. So it’s a lesson for all of us, who are on the couch and on the playing field.  We have to decide what story we want to get behind, and if we’re being honest, a lot of what happens in sport is just a reflection of what we’re asking for, and what we’re creating.  And that’s the hard part to swallow, we can all go out and blame Lance Armstrong, blame all these people, but we all played a role in creating this thing, this story.  



Sean: Yes, I totally agree with you.  It’s interesting the guy who’s responsible, a guy called Ged Ruddy at the Premier League for developing youth development systems, he mentioned back in the summer at a conference when discussing youth development that one of the areas they’re looking to bring back into soccer/football training is that fun. At a young age these kids have the fun taken out of sport and they lose site of the reality in life. They’ve got no other plans, this [sport] is everything and winning is everything and they said they’ve realized that’s not a good thing.  What’s interesting from a media perspective, speaking to you two guys who are gurus in the space, I find it fascinating from a 'hero-construction' perspective that, if you watch the Olympic Games or the Para-Olympics, people really start to get behind people who finish fourth, fifth, sixth if they just tried, and they could enjoy that moment, they knew it was difficult. The media did a great job over here, I don’t know what it was like in the States, but they did such a great job over here of explaining the technical difficulty and the amount of hard work and effort that required to achieve that performance, that people had an appreciation of the sport beyond winning. I though that was great, people’s journeys, even people who didn’t win, their journeys became something to be proud of and to aspire to and I hope….



Matt: Well, that’s the thing, it’s much more aspirational, because most of us are never going to win the Tour de France, but maybe, maybe just to get a shot to ride it, that’s real, and if you make that that is something.  You know, I worked when I was at Sony as an executive, a movie I love very dearly, called Talladega Nights – it’s a Will Farrell movie – and the characters believes this myth - his father is a race car driver who left when he was a little boy – and the thing that he grows up believing is that his father said to him when he was a little boy: “if you’re not first, you’re last”. And so his whole life he lives this crazy idea where “if you’re not first, you’re last”, and it obviously, comedically forces him to make all kinds of stupid decisions. Then he runs into his father after his life has collapsed, and he says: “but Dad, you said, if you’re not first, you’re last” and his Dad looks at him and says: “what are you talking about? I never said that. If you’re not first, you’re second or like third, or fifth.  What are you talking about?”  And he realized he made the whole thing up in his head, and it’s an absurd way to go through life, and so maybe everyone needs to go out and rent Talladega Nights.



Sean:  Ha-ha, I am sure they will now. Over here we have a Professional Players Federation, and they help a conference about the depression that professional athletes [face at the end of their career], we’ve seen it in boxing, the coverage of Tyson, being another disaster story really, people wanted him to be this great guy and he never was going to be that.  One of the factors that came up was how professional athletes perceive success, and the fact that it’s all driven towards this one goal, which as you both said rightly, is about winning for them, and once they haven’t got that goal to aspire to, the spiral into depression, because they haven’t got a perspective to frame it by.  So I would say anyone who’s an aspiring athlete, more broadly than just cycling fans or sports lawyer or those interested in sports law, I think you should watch the documentary just to give them some perspective on what being successful in sport is about really, and it’s beyond just the winning, isn’t it.



Matt: Amen.



Frank: I agree, and I think it’s very topical on the eve of the winter Olympics to remember what the Olympic motto is, something like: “the most important thing is not to triumph, but to struggle, and the essential thing is not conquer but to have fought well”, it’s not whether you win or lose, but how you play the game, and to have fought well, so I think that we have to get back to that Olympic belief, which was so well pointed out at the London Games, having been there it was a spectacular Games. You certainly knew those stories of the people who didn’t win Gold, Silver or Bronze but you know, just to be there was fantastic.



Sean: Thank you very much for your time, it was a great documentary, I really hope people go and watch it, and I hope for sports sake that we can learn from this saga and move forwards.



About the Author

Sean Cottrell

Sean Cottrell

Sean is the founder and CEO of LawInSport. Founded in 2010, LawInSport has become the "go to sports law website" for sports lawyers and sports executives across the world.

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