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Kelly: What I learned from watching ESPN's 'Lance' documentary

Lance Armstrong
Lance Armstrong of the USA and Team Radio Shack competes during Stage Five of the 2011 Tour Down Under. (Morne de Klerk/Getty Images)

As a kid, I knew Lance Armstrong was the cyclist behind the Livestrong rubber bracelet after beating cancer and was a phenomenal athlete. And, yes, I was one of the millions around the world who wore a yellow Livestrong bracelet. I was only 9 years old when Armstrong won his seventh Tour de France, so I didn’t live through his victories, but here are some of my biggest takeaways from ESPN’s 30 for 30 "Lance."

Not caring what others think

Within the first few minutes, the documentary dives right into doping, which sets the stage for the entire show. Armstrong says, “I’m not gonna lie to you, I’m gonna tell you my truth and my truth is not my version. My truth is the way I remember it.” That led me to ask myself, "Is he really going to tell us the truth throughout this documentary?" I realized watching the two-part documentary that Armstrong does not care what others think about him. Period.

At this point, he has nothing to hide. Armstrong says he was around 21 when he started doping and he “chose to do it." No one will know exactly how old he was. He admitted to forging his birth certificate so he could compete because of the age requirements in certain races. While that might be minuscule compared to a $5 million settlement for defrauding the U.S. Postal Service, the documentary shares how he was on track to be a phenomenal athlete at a young age.

It’s tough to say how good he would have been if he didn’t dope, but at a young age he still had to build his way to get his name on the map. I didn’t know much about his early life and the path athletes take to become cyclists, so I enjoyed how ESPN added that aspect. It also circles back to show how Armstrong always had a Type A personality even at a young age. He was determined, competitive and didn’t care what other people thought about him. He was that teammate you either loved or hated. We all had those.

Importance of culture

Since doping was the thing to do while cycling, watching this made me question how long cyclists have been doping for. And when did doping become the “thing to do?" Here’s an interesting stat from Business Insider: “During the seven-year window when he (Armstrong) won every Tour de France (1999-2005), 87% of the top-10 finishers (61 of 70) were confirmed dopers or suspected of doping." That’s a big number. While the majority of Armstrong’s teammates said they doped during the documentary, that was all they knew.

Former teammate Tyler Hamilton said, “I knew it was either join the club or go home and finish school and get a real job.” While I don’t know what it is like to play a professional sport with money involved, I do believe culture is important. That is part of your foundation for success. If everyone is doing it, then why be the one to change it? Especially if you are already winning.

History in the books

While Armstrong’s story of beating testicular cancer as a world-class athlete helped inspire others through the Livestrong foundation, and winning the Tour de France again is remarkable, I feel that will always be overshadowed by the things he did wrong. The last 40 minutes was the most powerful part of the documentary. Armstrong admits he wouldn’t change a thing, needed a nuclear meltdown and he got it. He added he had no problem lying and was immune to it. But you also saw a different side to him when he confessed to Oprah Winfrey his son would defend him at school for the things he did, crying about Jan Ullrich and how his career ended and resenting the sport of cycling.

I thought it was interesting to watch this two-part documentary after so much time had passed since Armstrong was relevant in the sport of cycling. Using steroids and performance-enhancing drugs has become an issue in many sports. While athletes such as Armstrong, Mark McGwire and others will have to live with cheating, that is a part of sports history. So, if you enjoy history, it’s worth a watch.

Shannon Kelly is a Multimedia Journalist for Nevada Sports Net. You can contact her at slkelly@sbgtv.com or via Twitter @shannonkelly_2.

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