Saturday, April 18, 2009

Cyclist Retires After Another Positive Test

Tyler Hamilton, a 2004 Olympic gold medalist and once one of Lance Armstrong’s top lieutenants on the US Postal Service team, announced his retirement from cycling after testing positive for a banned substance. Hamilton served a two year ban after testing positive for blood doping in 2004 at the Vuelta a Espana. A second positive test at the minimum is an 8 year ban and can lead to a lifetime ban from the sport. Hamilton said his retirement had nothing to do with his failed test.

Hamilton tested positive on February 9th for the substance DHEA, an over the counter dietary supplement that is on WADA’s banned list. He took the substance before the Tour of California to fight symptoms of depression. Per The New York Times, “DHEA, or dehydroepiandrosterone, converts to a steroid in the bloodstream and its benefits, including as a muscle-builder and antidepressant, are widely debated.”

Hamilton said, “Was it stupid? Absolutely yes. Was I wrong? Absolutely yes. But the people who suffer from depression know that sometimes you make drastic decisions to make yourself feel better. Yes, I took a substance that was on the banned list for my mental health. Did I take it for performance enhancement? Absolutely not.”

Some background regarding Hamilton’s first positive in 2004. Hamilton claimed innocence and denied that he transferred blood from another person, boosting his red blood cells and his endurance. Hamilton’s appeal to the highest court of international athletics, the Court of Arbitration for Sport, was unsuccessful and when he returned to the sport in 2007 his name was linked to a big blood-doping ring in Spain. The investigation into that ring is ongoing.

Hamilton has said winning the gold medal at the ’04 Olympics was one of the greatest achievements of his career. A month after his gold medal victory, he was accused of doping. The International Olympic Committee (IOC) deemed Hamilton’s initial blood sample from the Games positive for blood doping. However, the IOC could not strip him of his gold medal because Hamilton’s backup blood sample had been frozen leaving too few red blood cells to analyze.

Cycling has some drama, what else is new. Suffering from clinical depression or not, there is a banned list for a reason. All competitors in the sport know the consequences if they are caught using a banned substance. I applaud Hamilton seeking treatment for his illness, but if he wanted to compete into his 40’s, he should have done the right thing and met with a coach or doctor and pursued treatment that would have allowed him to continue to compete professionally. Hamilton had too many shady dealings in the past to know this was going to blow up in his face. I take him at his word: this last positive test had absolutely nothing to do with his retirement.

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