One-time Olympic gold medallist Tyler Hamilton has accepted an eight-year doping ban, marking the end of a career tarnished by drugs.
The US Anti-Doping Agency meted out the penalty on Tuesday, two months after Hamilton admitted taking a product to battle depression that contained a steroid.
"The eight-year suspension is unfortunate and disheartening," Hamilton said in a statement Tuesday evening. "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. "I would like to thank Michael Ball, the Rock Racing team, my fans, family and friends, for their continued support during this time.
"Moving forward, I am going to put a lot of my time and energy towards helping others who face severe depression overcome the obstacles this illness brings."
Hamilton, 38, tested positive for testosterone or its precursors in an out of competition test on February 9, USADA said in a statement.
"I took a banned substance so I need to take whatever penalty they will give me and move forward," Hamilton said in April, when he announced his retirement from the sport.
The 2004 Olympic time-trial champion, who formerly raced with Lance Armstrong's US Postal team, became the first athlete to be found guilty of doping by blood transfusion later that year.
The American was subsequently suspended for two years. Even if he changed his mind about retiring, another return after this ban seems virtually impossible.
"In the sport of cycling, eight years ineligibility for a 38-year-old athlete is effectively a lifetime ban, and an assurance that he is penalized for what would have been the remainder of his competitive cycling career," USADA chief executive Travis Tygart said. "Mr. Hamilton has agreed to the lab findings and has acknowledged that this constitues his second offense."
Hamilton's legal counsel sees it differently, though.
"Tyler took an herbal anti-depressant in a moment of crisis, with no intention or possibility of enhancing his cycling performance," Hamilton's solictor Chris Manderson said. "Despite that, the rules do not distinguish between an intentional doping violation and Tyler's attempt to self medicate for depression, and the USADA Protocol imposes a minimum eight-year penalty in this situation.
"The penalty is no different than it would be for an athlete who intentionally used testosterone in competition," Manderson added. "USADA could not have imposed a lesser penalty even if it had been understanding of Tyler's situation and wanted to impose a sanction more fitting to Tyler's lack of performance-enhancing intent. He would have no realistic chance of reducing the penalty in an arbitration hearing.
"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."
© 2009 AFP & BikeRadar