Hamilton's team still doubts validity of all tests

GENEVA -- Olympic champion Tyler Hamilton's blood samples showed different results -- one positive, one negative -- in a dispute that could cost the cyclist his gold medal.

The announcement by Hamilton's pro team Thursday still left unclear the status of his first-place finish in the time trial at the Athens Games. The International Olympic Committee said it would have a statement later in the day.

The Phonak team has threatened to fire Hamilton if he can't prove his innocence and on Wednesday said it suspended him. However, Hamilton said on the team's website Thursday that he is still a member of the team and will continue to take part in its day-to-day decisions.

One of Hamilton's B samples confirms the finding of the A sample test at the Spanish Vuelta on Sept. 11, which showed evidence of blood from another person, the Phonak team said.

But Hamilton's B sample from the Athens Olympics was clean, Phonak said on its website. The American's original sample tested positive in Athens on Aug. 19 but the findings emerged only this week, raising fears he could lose his medal.

Hamilton, a former University of Colorado skier, said Tuesday he was innocent and denied ever receiving a transfusion, which can boost an athlete's performance by increasing the amount of oxygen-transporting red blood cells. He repeated the denials
Thursday. If Hamilton is ultimately found guilty of doping, it would be the first case related to a blood transfusion.

Cycling's governing body had informed cyclists at the start of the season that it planned to start using a new blood-screening machine in the tests that detects blood transfusions, human growth hormone and synthetic hemoglobin. Until now, there has been no foolproof test for detecting blood transfusions.

Phonak plans to investigate the accuracy of the new tests.

"Since the new method is an effort based on probability and interpretation measurements, uncertainties will remain in this examination and procedure in any case," Phonak said.

"The team's goal is, and this is in the exact interest of Tyler Hamilton, that we have clarity in the end," it said. "The team management believes that it can form part of the campaign against blood doping and bring this matter up to a worldwide acceptable

Hamilton pulled out midway through the 2004 Tour de France because of a back injury and was fourth in the 2003 Tour.

He also withdrew from the Vuelta on Sept. 16, citing stomach problems. He acknowledged Tuesday he did so partly because of the positive test.

Former world champion Oscar Camenzind of Switzerland was dismissed by Phonak and immediately retired from the sport after testing positive for performance-enhancing EPO, which boosts the production of red blood cells, shortly before the Olympics.

A record 24 athletes, three of whom had gold medals revoked, were caught with doping violations at the Olympics. 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."