Olympic gold medalist not giving up hope

Updated: April 19, 2005, 3:45 PM ET
Associated Press

DENVER -- Olympic gold medalist Tyler Hamilton got back on his bicycle for a training ride Tuesday morning, saying the fight isn't over after his two-year suspension for a blood-doping violation.

Hamilton, who has consistently denied any doping violation, said he plans to appeal Monday's suspension to the Court of Arbitration for Sport in Switzerland within the next three weeks.

"Hopefully, the CAS hearing can go relatively quick and I can salvage part of the season," Hamilton said in an interview from his home in Boulder, about 30 miles northwest of Denver. "I'm still not giving up hope."

The U.S. Anti-Doping Agency said an independent panel of arbitrators had voted 2-1 to suspend Hamilton for receiving a transfusion of another person's blood. Hamilton tested positive for doping, which can increase endurance by providing additional oxygen-carrying red blood cells, during the Spanish Vuelta last Sept. 11.

Hamilton will keep his gold medal from the time trial at the Athens Games, but forfeits all competitive results since the date of the positive test. He can return to competition April 17, 2007.

"This is not just about me, this is about all athletes," Hamilton said. "Yesterday was a black day for all athletes, especially athletes competing in non-unionized sports. I can guarantee you this test would never have been approved in a unionized sport."

USADA's arbitrators said it was the first case ever based on the type of doping test used on Hamilton. It was designed to detect the presence of someone else's red blood cells, which the arbitrators said almost always indicates a transfusion.

During his arbitration hearing, Hamilton criticized the testing method used by the Union Cycliste International, the sport's international governing body.

Arbitrator Chris Campbell also expressed doubts about the method. He said a peer-reviewed study of the test method -- and the Swiss laboratory that used it -- failed to calculate the rate of false positives. At the same time, he wrote, the study demonstrated several ways false positive results could occur.

"The (test method) has not been validated in a manner acceptable to the scientific community. It should not be used to test athletes at this time," Campbell wrote. "The case against Mr. Hamilton should be dismissed."

The majority arbitration decision said Hamilton's Sept. 11 positive test "has a very high probability of having (been) caused by a blood transfusion," and an "extremely low" probability of having been caused by a rare condition that could result in a person having two different types of red blood cells.

Hamilton said he was shocked by the suspension.

"I had high hopes of racing as soon as next week, but obviously that's not going to happen," he said. "My chances of racing in this year's Tour de France are slim to none. That's what got me out of bed every morning."

Campbell, the arbitrator, also said a lab test of a Hamilton blood sample from the Athens Games a month before the Spanish race was negative, but a group formed by the International Olympic Committee later ruled the sample was positive. That case was dropped after a backup blood sample was destroyed. Campbell also said the Sept. 11 blood sample had a significantly lower indication of doping than the sample taken during the Olympics.

Based on blood tests done in spring and summer 2004, UCI had warned Hamilton and his Phonak team that he was under suspicion.

"UCI took the necessary action to protect the integrity of its sport," said Terry Madden, USADA's chief executive officer. "This decision shows that sport is committed to protecting the rights of all clean athletes and that no athlete is above the rules."

Hamilton was considered a possible successor to six-time Tour de France winner Lance Armstrong. The two were once teammates on the U.S. Postal Service team. Hamilton finished fourth in the 2003 Tour despite a broken collarbone.

Hamilton earned a six-figure salary with Phonak and has endorsement deals with Nike, Oakley and other sponsors. The team fired Hamilton in November, nearly a year before his contract was set to expire. Hamilton has said he agreed to leave to improve Phonak's chances of competing on this year's UCI Pro Tour.

Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press