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Bad Blood
Austin Murphy
May 30, 2005
Tyler Hamilton is training hard and determined to reverse his doping suspension, which he blames on a flawed test
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May 30, 2005

Bad Blood

Tyler Hamilton is training hard and determined to reverse his doping suspension, which he blames on a flawed test

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That's right: Hamilton went with the Vanishing Twin defense. Go ahead. Laugh. He expects you to. He knows it sounds like something lifted from a CSI script. What's more amazing is that it could be true. Hamilton's team pointed out the existence of chimeras: people born with two types of blood in their bodies. Chimerism is often the result of having had a vanishing twin.

"The vanished twin is a well- known medical phenomenon," says Housman. In a recent article, New York Times science writer Gina Kolata cited an expert who'd found that "20 to 30 percent of pregnancies that start out as twins end up as single babies, with one twin being absorbed by the mother in the first trimester." (Before the twin is absorbed, some of its cells--including bone-marrow stem cells, the progenitors of blood cells--can enter the body of the other fetus and remain there for life.) Another expert told Kolata that "50 to 70 percent" of healthy people are chimeras, including many who were not twins but received cells from their mothers.

But if Hamilton is really a chimera, why was he negative when he retook the test a few months after his positive in Spain? Housman says that an ebb and flow in the chimeric cell population is "perfectly consistent" with what researchers have found. And Kolata quotes a researcher who says, of flow cytometry, "the test can be quite finicky from experiment to experiment."

This does not, however, explain why Hamilton has not had numerous false positives, or why another rider on his team, Santiago Perez, also tested positive. (He did not show up for his hearing and was pronounced guilty in absentia.) Ross Brown, a scientist in agreement with the USADA's conclusions, says, "It seems inconceivable to me that there would be two people who were rare chimeras on the same cycling team." The USADA, for its part, stands by the reliability of the flow-cytometry test and says it offered to pay for Hamilton to take a separate test that can eliminate the possibility of chimerism, but Hamilton refused.

Hamilton is hopeful as he appeals his suspension. His case will be heard, probably in late June, by the Court of Arbitration for Sport in Switzerland. Though he is out of this year's Tour de France, he hopes to race in August.

In the meantime he is training hard--I caught him on the eve of a six-hour ride-and plotting various reforms in the cycling world. Hamilton wants to organize the riders to make them better able to defend themselves when falsely accused. If things aren't changed, he warns, "this will happen to other innocent athletes. Just talking about it, I start to get angry."

The anger is not limited to his waking moments. Lately, Haven reports, Tyler has been grinding his teeth in his sleep.

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