September 22, 2004
Say it ain't so
Reigning time-trial gold medalist Tyler Hamilton may face a ban and a revocation of his gold medal, after a blood sample turned up evidence of illegal blood boosting through transfusion of someone else's blood.
Hamilton denies the charges, and no sanctions will be enforced before a second sample completes testing.
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 scheduled for later Tuesday.
Hamilton abandoned the Vuelta a España last Thursday, complaining of stomach problems.
Hamilton would be the first athlete caught by a new test that tests for homologous blood boosting, the practice of transfusing blood from rider A into rider B. Jesus Manzano claimed his Kelme team routinely used homologous boosting in his series for the Spanish newspaper AS earlier this year.
Even the new test can't detect autologous boosting, where a rider's blood is removed and banked, then reintroduced immediately before a key race, boosting red blood cell volume in the body. This is what US cyclists reportedly did in preparation for the the 1984 Olympics.
Interestingly, I couldn't see why riders would risk homologous boosting, when they could easily bank blood for later use, but this paper explains that riders didn't have time to store blood, and so had to turn to relatives and others with their blood type, and as a result, some riders contracted hepatitis.
"I am accused of taking someone else's blood, but anybody who knows me would accept that I would never do such a thing," he said. "I know what I put into my body and what I don't. Cycling is very important for me but not everything. If was to think I had to do something like that I would rather put my bike away."
Dick Pound, head of the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA), declared himself satisfied with the news.
"If it stays positive, then it will the first ever case of this form of doping being detected," he said in Montreal where he was attending WADA's executive committee meeting.
Very, very sad day. I hope it's all a horrible mistake, but these things never seem to work out that way, do they?
I don't understand why it took a month to disclose his test results from the Games.
Posted by: lancefan at Sep 22, 2004 9:32:14 AM
The best explanation I have received of the Tyler Hamilton blood doping result is as follows: "...the HR-OFF blood test that Hamilton reportedly failed indicates the level of hemoglobin and reticulocytes (immature red blood cells) in the blood (indicated doping)"
This sounds interesting, but it is extremely vague.
If the charge against Tyler Hamilton is taking a transfusion of someone elses blood, why not simply test the DNA of the blood cells in the sample. The second or backup IOC test was deemed "inconclusive" because the sample had been frozen. Can we really not detect the presence of another person's DNA in significant quantities in the the blood sample, independent of whether or not the cells were structurally damaged? The test described above would seem to be better designed for detecting auto transfusions than transfusions from another "relative or family member" as has been reported. Why rely on the ratio of "hemoglobin (to) reticulocytes"? Does TH have an identical twin?
In short, I would very much like to see immediate publication in a publically accesable web format those test data, methodologies and scientific theories which constitute the alleged evidence for doping. It would also be nice to see the credentials of the experts who have provided the theory and analysis. There are many questions to be answered. We need more data and science and far less speculation and grossly simplistic hearsay.
Posted by: h kirk at Sep 23, 2004 6:20:38 PM
h kirk -- We can't test for another person's DNA in the blood samples because red blood cells (the ones which carry the hemoglobin) have no nuclei. No nucleus, no DNA.
From what little I understand from having ransacked the internet news stories, the test looks at a lot of different proteins on the surface of blood cells -- essentially a very sophisticated blood typing. We normally think of blood being A, B, or O and positive or negative, because those need to be a reasonably good match for blood transfusions to work. However, in addition to ABO and +-, there are lots and lots of other less important identifying proteins on the surface of blood cells. In theory, different blood types in the same person would indicate a transfusion.
However, some things I don't know --
* how much variation do people really have within their own blood cells? This test is supposed to be compared against previous tests from the same person, but I don't know how much variation there is.
* How reliable is the test?
* What exactly are they looking at? How subject to interpretation are the results?
Alas, the media aren't prone to giving scientific details...
Posted by: Andromeda at Sep 24, 2004 8:27:50 AM
I think another thing that needs to be considered is motive. Not any motive that Tyler might have, but the motives that the UCI and IOC would have for concocting a failed drug test. It's no secret that America is not very well-respected in the international community right now (and I'm not going to go off on some political tangent about wealth-envy). But especially after the whole French Fry incident after 9/11, and having an American flat out embarass the French in the TdF for 6 years straight, I can see how the French might take some gratification out of disqualifying Tyler. I am sure that if Lance had competed in the Olympics, we would be reading about a big Lance doping scandal.
Posted by: Anonymous at Sep 28, 2004 6:41:13 AM
If the French wanted to get back at the Americans, Tyler Hamilton is the worst possible rider they could pick to pin a doping scandal to. I mean it. The guy is famous for his honesty and perseverance, what with the bounce-back from the horrific skiing accident, his performance in the 2003 TdF, and everything in between.
Personally, I'm certain he's innocent, and I'm just wondering why he doesn't just request a polygraph test and wrap the whole thing up.
Posted by: bonnie parker at Oct 8, 2004 10:06:02 PM