Blood doping case confronts Hamilton

Posted: Wednesday, September 22, 2004


  Tyler Hamilton pedals on his way to win the gold medal during the men's road individual time trial of the 2004 Olympic Games in the outskirts of Athens in this August 2004 photo. AP Photo/Eric Risberg

Tyler Hamilton pedals on his way to win the gold medal during the men's road individual time trial of the 2004 Olympic Games in the outskirts of Athens in this August 2004 photo.

AP Photo/Eric Risberg

REGENSDORF, Switzerland Olympic cycling champion Tyler Hamilton declared his innocence Tuesday while awaiting results of backup tests for possible blood doping that could cost him the gold medal.

''I have always been an honest person. I am devastated to be here tonight. My family is devastated. My team is devastated. My friends are devastated,'' Hamilton said, adding that he would ''fight this until I don't have a euro left in my pocket.''

Tests at the Athens Olympics on Aug. 19 and at the Spanish Vuelta on Sept. 11 showed evidence of blood from another person, cycling's governing body said, according to a spokesman for Hamilton's team, Phonak.

Follow-up tests were started Tuesday and will be finished Wednesday, although it isn't clear when the results will be announced, Hamilton said.

If found guilty of a violation at the Olympics, Hamilton would lose his gold. Three athletes had gold medals revoked for doping during the Aug. 13-29 Olympics; a record 24 athletes none American from various sports were cited for drug-test violations at the Athens Olympics.

''I am 100 percent innocent,'' Hamilton said. ''I worked hard for that gold medal, and it isn't going anywhere.''

Hamilton already was considered one of the world's top cyclists before winning the time-trial race in Athens. He finished fourth in the 2003 Tour de France despite riding most of the way with a broken collarbone; he pulled out midway through the 2004 Tour because of a back injury.

He said he didn't find out about the result of the Olympic test until Saturday and learned about the other Sept. 16 the day he pulled out of the Vuelta, citing stomach problems. He acknowledged Tuesday that that move was partly because of the blood test.

Cycling's governing body, UCI, used a new blood-screening machine in the tests that detects blood transfusions, human growth hormone and synthetic hemoglobin. Until now, there has been no foolproof test for detecting blood transfusions.

Andy Rihs, chairman of the board of Phonak, said he didn't trust the new methods.

''I don't believe in the test,'' Rihs said. ''I think this test was done sloppily and I am pretty clear that whatever the test comes out tomorrow, I stand behind Tyler.''

Former world champion Oscar Camenzind was fired by Phonak and retired from the sport after testing positive for EPO shortly before the Olympics. At the time, team manager Urs Freuler said any rider that tested positive for a performance-enhancing substance would be dismissed.

''I don't fire innocent people,'' Rihs said. ''For me, Tyler is innocent as long as no one proves the contrary.''

Hamilton denied ever receiving a transfusion which can boost an athlete's performance by increasing the amount of oxygen-transporting red blood cells in his system. He said he would be afraid of contracting AIDS from a blood transfusion.

Asked about Hamilton's reported positive test at the Olympics, IOC medical director Patrick Schamasch said, ''For the moment, I can't confirm or deny anything.''

IOC spokeswoman Giselle Davies said, ''As with all doping procedures, while a process is underway, we can't go into details.''

USA Cycling CEO Gerard Bisceglia said the IOC had not said anything to his organization about Hamilton's medal. He said he was waiting to see the results of the tests Hamilton was taking Tuesday.

''We're not in a position to take a position. We hope for the best with this, as we do with any athlete,'' Bisceglia said.

The U.S. Olympic Committee said it had no comment.

Hamilton's gold was one of four medals won by American cyclists at the Athens Games the team's best showing since winning nine at the boycotted 1984 Los Angeles Olympics. Hamilton was the only American cyclist to win a gold medal in Athens, and he called that victory ''the highlight of my career, by far.''

Hamilton's father said from the family's home in Marblehead, Mass., that he and his wife Lorna spoke to their son by phone Tuesday.

''They've tried to bring down Lance Armstrong for years, and now they're trying to bring down Tyler,'' Bill Hamilton said. ''I think it's a witch hunt. It will be proven, mark my words, that this is totally bogus.

''He's good because of his natural ability, and because he works harder than most anybody else,'' he said.

If Hamilton is disqualified, the gold medal would go to Russia's Viatcheslav Ekimov, with American Bobby Julich moving up to silver and Australia's Michael Rogers to the bronze.

''The last four days have been horrible for me,'' Hamilton said. ''It has probably been the four worst days of my life.''

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