Wednesday, June 17, 2009
USADA has handed down an eight-year suspension for Tyler Hamilton. The Rock Racing rider tested positive in February tested positive for testosterone or its precursors in February. When the announcement for the non-negative result was announced, Hamilton declined the B sample test and immediately admitted he had taken the steroid DHEA as an alternative to prescription antidepressants in an effort to combat depression.
Hamilton retired immediately. As noted by USADA’s CEO Travis Tygart, Hamilton’s eight-year penalty is effectively a lifetime ban for the 38-year old cyclist.
For his part, Hamilton said he was disappointed by the ban, “The eight-year suspension is unfortunate and disheartening. At this time, however, my focus remains on my mother, my family, battling my depression and getting better. This has been an extremely difficult and trying period, but I am determined to get through it.”
The length of the ban is irrelevant to all but those closest to him. Even if the planets had aligned to dismiss consideration for the principle of strict liability, he would likely still have received a ban of two years. Did Hamilton really think he would have had the legs of Joop Zoetemelk or even Kent Bostick at 40?
"Although we believe the sanction is exceptionally harsh and completely disproportional to the transgression, Tyler has chosen to focus on getting better instead of fighting a pointless battle against the anti-doping regime," said Chris Manderson, Hamilton’s counsel.
Hindsight is blah, blah, blah. If we set aside the anger we felt when we heard he tested positive—the first time—and apply honesty to our recollections of Hamilton’s career, most of us will recall the jubilation and shock we felt when we heard that an American had won the Gold Medal in the ITT at the 2004 Summer Olympics. When we learned it was Hamilton, surprise was added to our jubilation.
Hamilton gave the United States its first victory in a Monument—Liege-Bastogne-Liege. Who can forget his performance in the 2003 Tour de France following his broken collarbone, not to mention his epic breakaway through the Pyrenees on his way to winning stage 16 in Bayonne? And what of his second place and stage win at the 2002 Giro d’Italia, despite a broken shoulder?
Should we excuse his doping? No. The wheels of justice have turned and by at least one objective measure things are as they should be. Should we turn our backs on his earlier results? Depends on your point of view. Most cycling fans will admit that at his best, Hamilton was surrounded by other riders who were engaged in similar levels of doping and so he was most probably playing on a relatively level field. And if that sounds like a tacit acceptance of his doping on some level, then consider this: Even after throwing out his results you are left with a guy who rode through broken bones and molars ground to expose nerves. In the annals of hard men, those stories earned him a permanent seat at the bar.
Hamilton’s end as a rider is sad and ignominious. But given what we know of the time in which he competed on the international stage, he did achieve memorable results. The inspiration we felt to see his courage is worth remembering.
Image courtesy of John Pierce, Photosport International.