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July 25, 2005

‘Real Sports’ to take up Hamilton case

HBO: Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel | Tyler Hamilton: Tainted or Untainted?

Bryant Gumbel's show on HBO will be looking at the Tyler hamilton case. Correspondent Frank Deford will talk to Hamilton, and consider the fairness of dope testing methods.

The episode, the 100th for the Gumbel sports interview and talk show, premieres tomorrow night at 9 p.m. Eastern. Since it's on HBO, you have more than 20 chances to catch it. Assuming you have HBO.

Posted by Frank Steele on July 25, 2005 in Doping, Top Stories, Tyler Freaking Hamilton | Permalink


Tyler's case is sad and bordering on embarrassing. Moustachio'd extortionists, absorbed twins, human chimeras. He failed the same test - which has been reliably used for many years in medical testing - twice. Take it like man, Tyler.

Posted by: Freddy at Jul 25, 2005 11:18:04 AM

Even if one gave him the benefit of the doubt about the human-chimera story (which would explain the two different blood cell genotypes, call them A and B), the thing that clinched it for me was that a followup test a few months later showed EXACTLY what one would expect if the suspect second blood type (B) came via transfusion: the percentage of type B red blood cells had markedly decreased. (RBC's have a lifetime of around 90 days and must be continually replaced by the body). Most folks would just say "dude, you're busted" at that point, but according to a news item about this in the 24. June issue of Science Magazine, Hamilton apparently has managed to find a scientist (geneticist David Housman of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology) who supposedly can even explain *that* one away. I guess with the right geneticist in your corner, pigs really *can* fly.

Posted by: EWM at Jul 25, 2005 1:53:07 PM

Human chimeras do exist. The most extreme example was a Russian with a mother and two fathers -- one black, one white. Two fertilized embryos fused, resulting in obvious fractal-like swirl patterns all over the man's body.

IVF, where multiple embryos are implanted at the same time, winds up with surviving embryos absorbing dying or less-advanced embryos, which is now believed to account for most of the oddities from IVF.

Most chimeras are mostly one individual genotype and a small percent of another. DNA testing now requires that DNA be taken from the same place the sample is from: blood is compared to blood, bucal swabs to bucal swabs (and saliva), etc.

It's actually possible for one individual to have two genotypes though not be a true chimera. If cells divide, and both paternal copies of a particular chromosome go to one cell and both maternal to the other cell, the organism can wind up with two or three gene lines -- even more. This is actually common with XY chromosomes, though the YY cells tend to die off. So a man can have XX and XY lines in the same body.

It's also possible that in individuals with multiple cell lines, there may be different levels of triggers for different lines. So, for example, if the cyclist is living at altitude, you could get a different mix of cells than if the cyclist is living at sea level.

It turns out, though, there's a simple way to test Hamilton. If he is not the result of IVF, then there are two possible cases. If he's only got one father, then his blood should test out that he has markers consistent with being his own brother (or less likely, sister). If he has two different fathers, then he should test out as his own half-brother (or sister). If the mother is available for DNA samples, then all markers present from the maternal genes should be hers. If the father (or both fathers) are available, then all markers should be identifiable.

If he was blood doping from anyone but a close relative of the required degree, it would show up on the DNA test like a sore thumb.

The test wouldn't be hard to do. That he hasn't done it and produced the data to show everyone makes me suspect it's all hot air.

Posted by: Rob at Jul 25, 2005 6:30:58 PM

Riddle me this: if TH's chimera defense is viable, wouldn't he test positive again if tested today, tomorrow. . .two years ago, for that matter?

Why only twice in a few months?

Posted by: matthew Wanderer at Jul 25, 2005 11:05:03 PM

Matt, common sense says you are right. Rob, I have to agree with your last sentence. Tyler's body language last night was not convincing. He did not look like a man completely and falsely accused. I have to believe there is more to this story than we know or Tyler is willing to tell.

Posted by: Trée at Jul 27, 2005 7:35:29 PM


I sort of with you on the body language observation, but I think someone who knows TH well would be the best person to comment on that element of the story.

TH is in the worst possible situation. Even if he is vindicated (test is proven to be flawed, he is a chimera, whatever), his name is tarnished, his earning power through sponsorships diminished severely.

Posted by: matthew Wanderer at Jul 28, 2005 10:48:30 AM

You guys need to read up on it more. First off, the test is brand-new. There is no false-positive rate established for it, a serious deficiency that should immediately disqualify it until such time as the methodology is mature. Second, there are A and B samples. The whole point of the B sample is to act as a safeguard. There could be a mistake made, which is why BOTH samples need to test the same. In Tyler's case, the B sample did NOT test positive. This should have cleared him; but the doping agency was so anxious for a high-profile bust, it disregarded the established standards and accused him anyway.

The whole issue of doping in cycling is quite ridiculous when you think of things like Richard Virenque being caught, admitting use, and yet still cycling in the TdF for 7 polka-dot jerseys. Meanwhile, Tyler Hamilton has essentially had his career ended by an extremely dubious test that actually should have cleared him (B-sample) due to the witch-hunt mentality of the prosecutors.

Remember this is the same guy who finished 4th with a broken collarbone and couldn't take real painkillers. Remember Jonathan Vaughters a few years back getting stung by a wasp and having his eye swell shut so he had to drop out of the TdF due to not being allowed any "unauthorized" cortisone?

Anti-doping policies in most sports are entirely inane. Andrea Raducan, who won the gymnastics gold medal in the 2000 Olympics, had it taken away because her team doctor gave her an over-the-counter cold remedy that contained pseudoephedrine (you can get it in Sudafed or Robitussin); even the IOC agreed it was not her "fault". Pseudoephedrine has since been removed from the banned list, but she still hasn't gotten her gold medal back. This is kind of like a law being repealed because it was so bad, but still keeping people in jail for it. Think: Drinking a beer, and prohibition.

Cycling is even more loony as stage-winners in the TdF who admit to doping are still considered the winners; so your past accomplishments still stand. And what about the 90's when EPO use was supposedly prevalent but untestable? Recall LeMond talking about how he didn't stand a chance after his third win because EPO burst onto the scene. If Indurain had used it, is it okay, assuming almost everyone did?

Indeed, what's the real difference between EPO and an altitude tent? Both are using technology to achieve the same goal. Some people even consider altitude tents cheating!

What about using a wind tunnel, or having custom $250,000-dollar bikes built, which is certainly an unfair advantage (unfair in that it's not available to everyone!). You think this could possibly save you 23 seconds in over an hour of racing?

Lance is a big proponent of drug testing for a very simple reason: without drugs, it's up to genetics and money, and he is way ahead of most people in both categories. There is simply no way for someone with a good-but-not great VO2 max or lactate threshold to beat someone who has better numbers. And who has more money spent on technology by sponsors?

If there are no drugs in sport, it comes down to genetics. You can't build as much muscle as someone who has a naturally higher testosterone level. If your recovery is not quick, you can train harder than anybody else but get worse results. Sure, you can beat people who are genetically better but DID NOT USE IT as well as they could have, but you CAN'T beat someone who is genetically better and trained just as well as you did. In some cases, the good genes will even allow them to train substantially less and STILL get better results than you.

In interest of fairness, everyone should be allowed to have the same levels of everything. Hematocrit level is a good example; it doesn't matter how it got there, everyone must stay below 50%. Or everyone should be allowed to use whatever they want.

Doping is a losing battle anyway, because even in theory, working as it ought, it makes things un-fair by biasing too much in favor of the genetically gifted. And in practice, there are so many ways to get around it. Even if you catch the guy who used X to win, and take away his title and give it to the guy in second place, THAT guy might have used X, Y, and Z and just not been caught!

Considering the 1998 fiasco in the TdF and that they let everyone back anyway, what was the point of any of this at all?!?

Posted by: Not a Doper at Jul 31, 2005 6:43:21 PM