American's gold medal threatened by test

Updated: September 22, 2004, 12:25 AM ET
ESPN.com news services

REGENSDORF, Switzerland -- Olympic time-trial champion Tyler Hamilton declared his innocence Tuesday after his pro cycling team said he's being investigated for possible blood doping and could be stripped of his gold medal.

Cycling is very important to me, but not that important. If I ever had to do that [doping], I'd hang the bike on the rack.
Tyler Hamilton

The American cyclist said he would "fight this until I don't have a euro left in my pocket."

"I find it hard to believe and I hope it's not true," Lance Armstrong told ESPN.com on Tuesday night. Armstrong was Hamilton's teammate during his years with the U.S. Postal Service team (1996-2001). "He was with us for a long time and he's a good, honest, hard-working guy."

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, said Hamilton, a former University of Colorado skier.

Phonak spokesman Georges Luedinger said Hamilton denied having a transfusion -- which can boost athletes' performance by increasing the amount of oxygen-transporting red blood cells in their system.

"Tyler told us he did nothing," Luedinger said.

"I'm devastated to be here tonight," Hamilton said. "My family, team, friends are all devastated, and one thing I can guarantee you is I'm 100 percent innocent," the American told reporters at a news conference held by his Phonak cycling team.

"I've been accused of taking blood from another person. Anyone who knows me knows that is completely impossible. I can tell you what I did and did not put into my body. Cycling is very important to me, but not that important. If I ever had to do that [doping], I'd hang the bike on the rack."

If found guilty of a violation at the Olympics, Hamilton would lose his gold medal. Three athletes had gold medals revoked for doping during the Aug. 13-29 games; 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 Thursday -- 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.

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 under way, we can't go into details."

USA Cycling CEO Gerard Bisceglia said the IOC had not said anything to his organization regarding Hamilton's medal. He said he was waiting to see the results of the tests Hamilton was to take 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 in Los Angeles in 1984, at an Olympiad boycotted by the Eastern Bloc.

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."

Phonak chairman Andreas Rihs, casting doubt on the reliability of the tests, said the team would stand behind Hamilton even if the "B" tests were positive.

"We don't fire innocent people and if the 'B' test is positive as well, we'll still stand behind Tyler," Rihs said. "We believe Tyler independent of these results. We don't believe the test is reliable. It's more of a probability test. We have scientific papers that question the reliability of these tests.

"We think this test [at the Tour of Spain] -- or the IOC test at least -- were done sloppily. The IOC test is suspect because it [the result] came out one month after it was done."

Hamilton finished fourth in the 2003 Tour de France despite breaking his collar bone in a crash at the end of the first stage. He used to support Lance Armstrong on the U.S. Postal team before leaving in 2001 to become team leader with CSC Tiscali.

Swiss cyclist Oscar Camenzind, who raced for Phonak, was banned for two years after testing positive for EPO shortly before the Athens Games. Camenzind was the 1998 world road race champion, and he retired after the positive test was revealed.

Information from The Associated Press and Reuters was used in this report.

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