Am at an airport, enroute to my final destination & in transit now. Watched ‘The Program’ on the way here – it’s about the real-life rise & fall of Lance Armstrong – & am sitting now reading story after story online about doping in the Tour de France.
I remember when the media started reporting news of his alleged doping. I wanted so much for it to be proven untrue, for him to still be a hero.
Other than the joy from the adrenaline rush it brings (if you’ve never tried a sport & hence don’t get this part; you are really missing out!) I personally love sport for the strength & tenacity of the human spirit that it brings out. Because of this, every time there is some sort of scandal (doping, corruption, match-fixing, etc) reported in the sporting world, I feel very sad. It ruins the whole thing. The integrity of the game, the respect for the discipline & dedication of athletes, the belief of fans in their heroes – everything. My older brother – a real football fanatic who arranges his life around watching every single game he can – when asked what he thought of the FIFA scandals, said “I don’t want to believe it; it ruins the beautiful game”.
So while I knew the story & saw the countless headlines when the news broke a few years ago, I never wanted to sit down & really get into the case. Till today, when I found myself on a flight where this was the only movie on board I felt was worth watching.
It was a marvellous performance by the actors (although I’m bad with following these things & I admittedly have no idea who they are or what else they’ve acted in) & I of course enjoyed watching the cycling scenes. There was nary much back story to any of the protagonists; no dramatisation, no love scenes, no sensational scenes of domestic strife. The focus was on the sport & in portraying the full story on what happened. I liked that.
While I am still saddened by the world losing another hero – Lance Armstrong overcame stage 3 cancer, coming back to compete at the highest level internationally; drugs or no drugs, that’s really amazing – it did give insight into the world of sport at that level & what really motivates world-class athletes to risk losing everything by doping. A top class athlete, apart from physical requirements, has to possess an almost-fanatic sort of single-mindedness. It is only with this sort of mindset that they can keep going, day in & day out, as they ‘punish’ their bodies each day at training: to win.
There was a scene where a young Lance Armstrong asks a doctor for help. This doctor dismissed him twice; first saying his frame was unsuitable for long distance cycle & a second time to let him know his VO2 max would never make him a winner. (The short explanation is that VO2 represents the body’s ability to use oxygen. The long explaination is that VO2 max is the maximum amount of oxygen your body can utilize during exercise. It’s a combination of how much oxygen-rich blood your heart can pump, and the muscles efficiency in extracting and utilizing the oxygen. Since oxygen is critical to running fast, your VO2 max is the single best measure of how good a racer you are.) You can increase VO2 but it is largely hereditary. It’s the reason why even in early years of school, before kids have had the advantage of training, you would find that some children are just a lot faster runners than others. They were blessed with a higher VO2 max. I think that in this single-mindedness to win, he may have felt this was an unfair disadvantage & this justified it to himself to dope: it wasn’t cheating, it was simply levelling the playing field.
I still don’t condone doping in sports, but with just a smidgen more insight from the film, I at least feel more sympathetic now in understanding what drives such behaviour.
The thing that is making me sick now is reading in detail about all th doping that has gone on in the Tour de France (see Wikipedia here if you want to know the details). Did you know it was not only not illegal for 60 years, it was also accepted? I’ve a weak stomach for such things in general & I felt like throwing up after reading it all. But I looked it up because I wanted to know if what Armstrong said “If you take me back to 1995, when doping was completely pervasive” and “everybody was doing it” was true. And it seems to be so…
Maybe I’ll stick to just playing sport & the adrenaline rush I get from that.