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Firing likely if facts prove he cheated

9/23/2004

GENEVA -- Olympic cycling champion Tyler Hamilton was
suspended Wednesday by his pro team, which threatened to fire him
if he can't prove he's innocent of blood doping.

Although Hamilton won't lose his time-trial gold medal from the Athens
Games because officials froze the blood instead of refrigerating it, IOC officials said Thursday, a test taken at the Spanish Vuelta also showed another person's blood in his system.

Hamilton denied receiving a transfusion -- which can boost an athlete's
performance by increasing the amount of oxygen-transporting red
blood cells in his system.

Under the heading "We believe Tyler" in a statement Wednesday,
Phonak team boss Andy Rihs said: "For the moment, we have to
concentrate on the facts. These seem to speak against Tyler. But so
long as we're not 100 percent certain that he's guilty of
manipulation, we will believe him."

However, immediately below Rihs's statement, Phonak said
Hamilton's suspension would hold "pending further notice" until
tests and proceedings are completed.

"If Hamilton is not able to prove his innocence, then the
contract will be canceled effective immediately," the statement
said.

The American 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 through 2001). "He was with us for a long time and he's a good, honest, hard-working guy."

Phonak's stance is a far cry from the staunch support of
Hamilton it showed Tuesday, when Rihs declared he didn't "fire
innocent people," adding that "Tyler is innocent as long as no
one proves the contrary."

Hamilton said he already is losing endorsement deals, though he
wouldn't say with which companies.

"Already it has ruined a lot for me -- my reputation," Hamilton
said. "There are personal sponsors who are pulling out. It's
sad."

He's sponsored by Nike, Oakley Eyewear and Watches, Zipp Wheels,
pedal manufacturer Speedplay, Bell Helmets and energy bar maker
Clif Bar.

Phonak, a Swiss team, was informed by cycling's international
body and the International Olympic Committee that tests at the
Athens Olympics on Aug. 19 and at the Spanish Vuelta on Sept. 11
showed evidence of blood from another person.

The International Cycling Union had informed cyclists at the
start of the season that tests for blood doping and Human Growth
Hormone were well advanced and probably would be introduced in the
coming months.

"I am 100 percent innocent," Hamilton said Tuesday. "The
results were like a bolt of lightning out of the blue for me. I
have no idea what has happened. It must be some kind of
manipulation."

A record 24 athletes were caught with doping violations at the
Aug. 13-29 Olympic Games. Three athletes had gold medals revoked
for doping in Athens.

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."

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.