Blood Simple

A new test for an old form of cheating catches an Olympic gold medalist
October 03, 2004

The world anti-doping agency promised new drug tests for the Olympics, but until last week athletes didn't know those tests included one for the old school practice of blood doping. Tyler Hamilton, 33, tested positive for a blood transfusion--which gives recipients more red cells, thus more endurance--after winning the Olympic time trial gold. Because Hamilton's B sample was mishandled, he will keep his medal. But Hamilton also tested positive at the Vuelta a España earlier this month, meaning he faces a two-year ban from competition. "Tyler absolutely intends to contest these charges," says his lawyer, Howard Jacobs.

Blood doping became less popular as new performance-enhancing drugs became available in the 1980s. The practice has undergone a resurgence because it was thought to be difficult to detect. Hamilton plans to question the reliability of the test, but the man who championed it, Australian physiologist Michael Ashenden, says, "We are no longer looking for the needle in the arm, and we believe we are a couple steps ahead of the athletes already." --George Dohrmann

COLOR PHOTOPEER GRIMM/EPA (BIKE) GETTING TESTY Hamilton (in Olympics and facing the press last week) maintains he's clean. COLOR PHOTOSTEFFEN SCHMIDT-KEYSTONE/AP (PRESS CONFERENCE); [see leadin above]   [see caption above]