Why would an athlete use performance-enhancing drugs? “Untold: Hall of Shame,” a documentary about a high-profile doping scandal in the early 2000s that shocked the world of competitive sports, offers a persuasive reason: because every other athlete is taking them.
Victor Conte Jr., a self-taught sports nutritionist and trainer who provided several sports stars and Olympians with steroids through his Bay Area firm Balco, insists in “Hall of Shame” that performance-enhancing drug use in pro sports is “rampant,” to the extent that using them is all but necessary to win. He frames the decision to dope as one between unethical victory or noble failure. “Show me an athlete not on steroids,” he says, “and I’ll show you a loser.”
With compelling verve, “Hall of Shame,” from the director Bryan Storkel, tells the story of Conte’s ignominious rise and fall. It draws you into the addictive thrill that his athletes felt as they were winning medals and breaking records, and although it’s somewhat slight on the whole, the film makes clear why elite competitors such as Marion Jones, Tim Montgomery and Barry Bonds were willing to compromise themselves for a taste of elite glory.
Both Jones and Bonds declined to appear in the film — and both have denied ever knowingly taking performance-enhancing drugs — but Montgomery, candid and vulnerable, opens up about his reasons, to dramatic effect. “I don’t care if I die,” he describes having told Conte, in dope-boosted pursuit of the world record for 100-meter dash. “I want to see what it feels like to be the greatest.” He broke the record in 2002; it was invalidated two years later. As “Hall of Shame” makes clear, if you win by cheating, greatness is not what you achieve.
Untold: Hall of Shame
Not rated. Running time: 1 hour 15 minutes. Watch on Netflix.