Rating: 2.5 stars out of 5 stars.
The Program is a film based on journalist David Walsh’s book Seven Deadly Sins: My Pursuit of Lance Armstrong.
Walsh of the Sunday Times is convinced that Lance Armstrong’s victories in the Tour De France are fueled by performance-enhancing drugs. The journalist’s reaction on meeting Armstrong for the first time is that he’s good but not great.
“He’s good enough to win a day race but not the Tour,” he announces to his fellow journalists but then Armstrong has him eating his words.
Armstrong too realises that he’s just not good enough to win the Tour De France on his own. He turns to Italian physician Michele Ferrari for help.
Ferrari rejects him initially because he believes that Armstrong is simply not built for racing.
Armstrong is struck with testicular cancer but recovers to found the Live Strong foundation to assist other cancer survivors.
But the film leaves the viewers with no ambiguity about Armstrong’s villainy when a doctor bursts into his hospital room with the query whether he had ever used performance enhancing drugs while training.
Following his recovery, Armstrong seeks out Ferrari again this time convincing him that his body shape has changed since his cancer treatment.
Ferrari agrees to work with him starting him on a course of Erythropoietin or EPO. EPO increases the production of red blood cells thus increasing VO2 max in athletes.
Armstrong is the leader of the US Postal Team winning the Tour De France seven consecutive times. Armstrong institutes a doping culture within the side that includes Floyd Landis who is seen as the logical successor to Armstrong when he retires.
Armstrong considers himself bigger than the sport itself believing himself to be untouchable; he feels that the integrity of cycling would be compromised if his positive test results are disclosed to the world at large.
Armstrong manages to appear above it all; challenging his opponents in court and in the court of public opinion claiming that he has never tested positive.
He takes Walsh and the Sunday Times to court and wins damages.
Armstrong also wins a case against SCA Promotions who attempt to withhold his $5 million bonus.
The Texan retires after claiming a record seven Tour De France titles. He is widely considered the greatest ever cyclist.
Following his retirement, his former teammate Floyd Landis wins the 2006 Tour De France. He later tested positive for an unusually high ratio of the hormone testosterone to the hormone epitestosterone (T/E ratio).
Landis first denied the allegations but later testified to the same accusing Armstrong among others.
The Federal investigation leading from his allegations was dropped but a later United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) investigation found Armstrong guilty. He was banned for life.
With his lies unraveling, Armstrong finally comes clean to Oprah Winfrey on national television.
Ben Foster plays Armstrong with a conviction that conveys his single-mindedness in pursuit of cycling’s Holy Grail. He brooks no opposition in pursuit of his goal. He can be both charming and charismatic. He rubs shoulders with the high and mighty and the best of Hollywood. He has no qualms about cheating believing that the sport is riddled with them.
Jesse Plemons is Floyd Landis, a conflicted rider who sees Lance as his mentor but is devastated on being left out in the cold when he’s caught. He gives up Armstrong and his former teammates turning whistle-blower.
The movie though leaves you cold. Armstrong has no redeeming qualities–even his work for his own foundation Live Strong leaves the audience unmoved.
Catch it if you’re interested in the Armstrong saga. But don’t expect fireworks or thrilling sporting action. There is very little to redeem a movie that could well have been a documentary.
It was 1988. It was the Summer Olympics in Seoul. Johnson had set the 100 meters world record of 9.83 seconds the previous year. Johnson, however, had injury problems coming into the Games. A hamstring injury had plagued him the whole season.
Johnson won. He also set a new world record: 9.79 seconds.
And then it ended almost as soon as it began.
The man was a cheat.
Johnson’s blood and urine samples were found to contain stanozolol.
The last citadel had been breached.
The Olympics , when it first begun, was celebrated as a coming together of amateur athletes under the Olympic motto “Citius, Altius, Fortius” which is Latin for “Faster,Higher, Stronger.”
Amateurism made way for professionalism beginning gradually in the 1970s.
Sport was no longer clean or for fun. It was competition–cutthroat competition.
Every millisecond, every millimeter counted.
1988 also saw the International Olympic Committee (IOC) declaring all professional athletes eligible for the Olympics, subject to the approval of the international federations in charge of each sport.
Only soccer and baseball disallow pros at the Olympics.
Thus began the age of disillusion.
If Johnson could cheat, then how many others?
Reports of systematic doping in East European countries did nothing to counteract such perceptions.
More recently, Lance Armstrong was stripped of his seven Tour De France titles.
Armstrong, a cancer survivor, indulged in blood doping throughout his career.
In an interview with the Telegraph, Armstrong says:
“I’m that guy everybody wants to pretend never lived. But it happened, everything happened. We know what happened. Now it’s swung so far the other way… who’s that character in Harry Potter they can’t talk about? Voldemort? It’s like that on every level. If you watch the Tour on American TV, if you read about it, it’s as if you can’t mention him.”
The Texan is riling his opponents once more by participating in the One Day Ahead ride, cycling part of the Tour de France route. The ride raises money to fight leukemia.
It is time we admit that we cannot hold our sporting heroes to a higher standard. They engage in a profession where every bit done can make a difference between winning and losing, between being the face of a shoe brand or simply being an also-ran.
Our modern-day heroes have feet of clay. We should learn to expect that they will disappoint us someday. They cannot be placed on a pedestal.
“But wait,”, you say, “these are the very personas my kids look up to.”
Yes, but isn’t that a reflection of the society and times we live in?
Children look up to actors and rock stars too. Are they held to a higher standard?
Then why sports persons?
Shouldn’t we teach our kids to look for heroes elsewhere? Real-life heroes.