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By VeloNews Interactive, With wire services
Greek prosecutors have opened investigations into how an Athens laboratory blunder allowed Olympic time-trial champion Tyler Hamilton to escape a charge of alleged blood doping.
The American tested positive for a blood transfusion in Athens in August after winning the Olympic time-trial gold medal.
However, he was able to keep the medal because the International Olympic Committee said the result of a follow-up sample was “non-conclusive” because the sample had been destroyed by being deep-frozen.
Prosecutors said they wanted to determine if the deep freezing was deliberate, negligent or the result of a poorly crafted set of laboratory procedures.
World Anti-doping Agency president Dick Pound recently told VeloNews that the newly developed test had an inherently contradictory set of handling requirements.
“The problem was that you have two vials – the serum and the whole blood,” Pound said. “Both are in the same package and the two call for distinctly different handling. The serum can be frozen, while the whole blood needs to be refrigerated. We have to fix that system.”
Hamilton is also being investigated for failing another test for an illicit blood transfusion during the Vuelta a España in September.
Blood doping is a means of enhancing an athlete’s endurance by increasing the amount of oxygen-carrying red cells in the blood stream, accomplished by using his own blood or that of a donor with same blood type.
Hamilton has always denied the allegations. The 33-year-old from Massachusetts developed a reputation for toughness when he finished the Giro d’Italia with a broken shoulder and raced with a broken collar bone to finish fourth in the Tour de France.
Pound has frequently argued that the test results from the Vuelta underscore the positive from Athens.
“He got to keep his medal, but somewhere in that whole process, they get the word out that he needs to be tested at the Vuelta… and that test showed the same stuff as did the A sample from Athens,” he said. “So yes, yes his medal is tainted. He doesn’t deserve to have a gold medal. The tests show that. As I said, he dodged a bullet.”
Efforts to reach Hamilton for a response were unsuccessful. Meanwhile, Pound’s position was echoed by IOC president Jacques Rogge. Rogge told the Reuters news service on Monday that he regretted the “technicality” that allowed Hamilton to keep his gold medal.
“The stupidity of a lab employee made it impossible to punish the American, but it does not question the validity of the test,” Rogge said. “Nobody will regard him as the time trial Olympic champion in Athens.”