A three-member arbitration panel from the International Court of Arbitrationfor Sport has unanimously rejected the appeal of American Tyler Hamilton, upholding his two-year suspension for a blood doping violation at the 2004 Vuelta a España.
The three arbitrators also ruled that Hamilton’s two-year ban should have been effective from the date of his initial suspension (September 23, 2004) rather than on the date a North American hearing panel confirmed his penalty (April 17, 2005). That change may mean that Hamilton could return to the top level of the sport as early as this fall, just two days before the world road championships.
Hamilton quickly issued a statement maintaining his innocence and expressing disappointment that the three-member panel chose to reject, his challenge of what had been a new application of an established testing technique.
“Based on my devastating personal experience over the last year and a half, I am committed to fighting for reform within the anti-doping movement,” Hamilton said.” I do support the anti-doping mission and (the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency), however the current system has failed an innocent athlete and needs to change.”
The CAS panel, however, rejected Hamilton’s appeal, which was largelybased on a challenge of the veracity of the test. The three-member panelunanimously ruled that “USADA has met its burden of proof by demonstratingthat the HBT test conducted by the Lausanne Laboratory was in accordancewith the scientific community’s practice and procedures.”
Following his time trial stage win at the 2004 Vuelta, Hamilton submitteda blood sample that later showed signs of a foreign blood population, indicating that the former Phonak rider had injected red blood cells from a donor in order to increase his own red-blood-cell count and boost his endurance.
The test, which employs a 30-year-old medical technology often used in hospitals to separate sub-groups in common blood types, was first applied to the doping question as part of an Australian study published in the August 2002 edition of the journal Haematologica.
The method – flow cytometry – relies on the fact that the surfaces ofindividuals’ red blood cells have a distinct set of antigen receptors.Blood samples are exposed to a specific set of die-soaked antigens andthen individual cells are exposed to a laser beam. The resulting fluorescentpatterns are studied for differences. The method has long been used byhospitals to “sub-type” blood, but the method had been applied to dopingtests only since the 2004 Olympics.
In September of 2004, Olympic officials originally reported that Hamilton had submitted a “suspicious” sample at the 2004 Games in Athens, after he had won the goldmedal in the individual time trial.
An established pattern?
Further revelations, however, suggest that Hamilton’s blood produced similarly aberrant results from samples taken in April and June of 2004. Those samples showed “strong signs of possible manipulation,” and resulted in a June 10 warning letter to Hamilton from the UCI, informing him that he would be “closely monitored,” throughout the 2004 season.
According to CAS documents, the samples had already shown indications of mixed red blood cell populations, but at the time there was no formally recognized test for so-called “homologous blood doping.” That test was not deployed until the 2004 Olympics in Athens.
It was in Athens, after Hamilton won the gold medal for the individual time trial, that he apparently again submitted a blood sample that reviewers later said showed signs of a mixed population of cells. Although the test was now certified, the result of Hamilton’s test was not confirmed after lab technicians froze the B-sample, destroying the red-blood cells and preventing further testing.
IOC officials soon announced that they were dropping the case and that Hamilton could keep his medal. The Russian Olympic Committee has since filed an appeal seeking to overturn that decision, strip Hamilton of the gold and award it to silver medalist Viatcheslav Ekimov.
Hamilton did not learn of the results of the Athens test until after he had submitted another sample at the Vuelta. IOC, UCI and World Anti-Doping Agency officials have since conceded that he had probably been targeted for additional testing after the B-sample debacle in Athens.
Hamilton withdrew from the Vuelta on September 16 and was suspended from competition on the 23rd of that month.
Hamilton was issued a two-year suspension, which then triggered a lengthy appeal process. Hamilton’s attorneys argued that there could have been reasons, other than blood doping, for the positive flow cytometry result, including remnant DNA from a twin sibling that never developed in his mother’s womb, a relatively rare phenomenon known as a “chimera.”
Hamilton’s initial appeal was rejected in a split decision by a three-member panel from the American Arbitration Association last April. While the majority of that panel rejected Hamilton’s challenges to the veracity of the test, arbiter Christopher Campbell said that USADA and others defending the procedure had failed to present a compelling case. Campbell pointed to what he said was a failure on the part of WADA to accurately document the actual risk of false positives in the test developed by scientists in Australia.
Campbell argued that while WADA could have relied on a very objective and verifiable set of standards to detect such false readings, the agency took an “I know it when I see it” approach to quality control.
Furthermore, Campbell said that the testing procedures failed to take into account other factors that could have influenced the outcome of a flow cytometry examination of a population of red blood cells, including bone marrow transplant and recent pregnancies, obviously neither of which was raised as a defense in the Hamilton case.
Another round of appeals… and that disappearing twin
Buoyed by that vigorous dissent, Hamilton attorney Howard Jacobs moved the case to CAS, the sporting world’s highest court of appeal.
But following a lengthy set of hearings that concluded this January, the CAS Panel unanimously found that Hamilton had committed a doping violation and that USADA had met the burden of proof.
The three-member panel, composed of two Americans and an Australian,noted that testimony from expert witnesses, including flow cytometry specialist,Dr. Bruce Davis of the Maine Medical Center Research Institute, who isalso the Chairman of the Clinical and Laboratory Standards Institute AreaCommittee in Hematology. Davis told the panel that “without any equivocation. . . the blood sample from Tyler Hamilton on September 11, 2004 containeda mixed population . . . indicat[ing] a previous homologous blood transfusion.”
The panel rejected Hamilton’s explanations for the positive test result including the disappearing twin, noting that Hamilton had declined to undergo follow-up testing after an initial DNA assessment of one of his earlier blood samples apparently refuted his claim of chimerism.
“During the course of the hearing, DNA testing was carried out by Dr. Busch, which indicated that (Hamilton) was not a chimera… while (Hamilton) submitted a reply concerning this testing (he) did not participate in (additional)testing, as he was invited to do,” the panel’s decision noted.
The panel said that while Hamilton and his legal team had raised “general criticisms” of the methods employed, the complaints were “not backed up by facts.”
“The Panel considered each of the excuses and found each to be completely without merit,” Terry Madden, CEO of USADA, said in a press release issued Saturday. “It is sad thatMr. Hamilton resorted to conspiracy theories rather than just accept theconsequences of his doping.”
Madden added, “the development and implementation of this test andthe confirmation of its validity would not have been possible without thededication and efforts of the scientific community and the world anti-dopingmovement.”
But Hamilton suggested that the entire process – from test approvalall the way to the hearing process – was rife with conflicts of interest.
“Out of respect to fairness and the rights of all athletes, there shouldbe clear separation between the agencies that develop new tests and thosethat adjudicate anti-doping cases,” he wrote Saturday. “Credible, independentexperts, not those who funded or developed the original methodology, shouldbe charged with properly validating new tests.
“I don’t believe any athlete should be subjected to a flawed test orcharged with a doping violation through the use of a method that is notfully validated or generates fluctuating results. I will also continueto support the formation of unions to help protect the rights of athletes.My goal is to keep other athletes from experiencing the enormous pain andhorrendous toll of being wrongly accused.”
End in sight?
Hamilton did achieve a minor victory in the CAS appeal in that the panel determined that the two-year suspension handed down by the American Arbitration Association/North American Court of Arbitration for Sport (AAA/CAS) was inappropriately started on the date of the decision – April 17, 2005 – instead of the date of the original infraction – September 11, 2004.
That means that Hamilton will be eligible to compete again later this year. Strict anti-doping provisions in the charter of the new UCI ProTour require that a rider be banned from participating at that top level of the sport for a period twice that of any suspension handed out by a rider’s national federation.
Under the original suspension, Hamilton would not have been eligible to ride for a ProTour team until April of 2008. Now that the suspension date has been shifted, he might be eligible to ride at that level after September 22 of this year, coincidentally just two days before the start of this year’s world road race championship.
Do you agree with the CAS panel’s decision? Giveit a read and then let us know what you think by writing to WebLetters@InsideInc.com.Please include your full name and home town.Letters may be edited for length and clarity.
Hamilton blood tests show ‘inconsistencies’ – September 20, 2004
Olympiccase dropped against Hamilton – September23, 2004
The Hamilton Case: A doctor explains blood doping – September 28, 2004
Greekofficials investigate Hamilton case – December 20, 2004
Hamiltonawaits arbitration decision – March 13, 2005
Hamilton draws two-year suspension – April 18, 2005