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U.S. cyclist could be stripped of gold medal

Olympic cycling champion Tyler Hamilton declared his innocence Tuesday while awaiting results of backup tests for possible blood doping that could cost him the gold medal.

"I have always been an honest person. I am devastated to be here tonight. My family is devastated. My team is devastated. My friends are devastated," Hamilton said, adding that he would "fight this until I don't have a euro left in my pocket."

Tests at the Athens Olympics on Aug. 19 and at the Spanish Vuelta on Sept. 11 showed evidence of blood from another person, cycling's governing body said, according to a spokesman for Hamilton's team, Phonak.

Followup tests were started Tuesday and will be finished today, although it isn't clear when the results will be announced, Hamilton said.

If found guilty of a violation at the Olympics, Hamilton would lose his gold. Three athletes had gold medals revoked for doping during the Aug. 13-29 Olympics; a record 24 athletes _ none American _ from various sports were cited for drug-test violations at the Athens Olympics.

"I am 100 percent innocent," Hamilton said. "I worked hard for that gold medal, and it isn't going anywhere."

He said he didn't find out about the result of the Olympic test until Saturday and learned about the other Sept. 16 _ the day he pulled out of the Vuelta, citing stomach problems. He acknowledged Tuesday that that move was partly because of the blood test.

Cycling's governing body, UCI, used a new blood-screening machine in the tests that detect blood transfusions, human growth hormone and synthetic hemoglobin. Until now, there has been no foolproof test for detecting blood transfusions.

Andy Rihs, chairman of the board of Phonak, said he didn't trust the new methods.

"I don't believe in the test," Rihs said. "I think this test was done sloppily and I am pretty clear that whatever the test comes out, I stand behind Tyler."

Hamilton denied ever receiving a transfusion _ which can boost an athlete's performance by increasing the amount of oxygen-transporting red blood cells in his system. He said he would be afraid of contracting AIDS from a blood transfusion.

Asked about Hamilton's reported positive test at the Olympics, IOC medical director Patrick Schamasch said, "For the moment, I can't confirm or deny anything."

The U.S. Olympic Committee said it had no comment.

Hamilton's gold was one of four medals won by American cyclists at the Athens Games _ the team's best showing since winning nine at the boycotted 1984 Los Angeles Olympics. Hamilton was the only American cyclist to win a gold medal in Athens, and he called that victory "the highlight of my career, by far."

Hamilton's father said from the family's home in Marblehead, Mass., that he and his wife Lorna spoke to their son by phone.

"They've tried to bring down Lance Armstrong for years, and now they're trying to bring down Tyler," Bill Hamilton said.

If Hamilton is disqualified, the gold medal would go to Russia's Viatcheslav Ekimov, with American Bobby Julich moving up to silver and Australia's Michael Rogers to the bronze.

"The last four days have been horrible for me," Hamilton said. "It has probably been the four worst days of my life."

CAPEL WARNED: John Capel of Brooksville received a public warning Tuesday following a positive test for marijuana that led to him being replaced on the U.S. 400-meter relay team at the Olympics.

Capel tested positive in early August in Germany at a competition between the United States, France and Germany. Since it was his first such violation, he did not receive any suspension. Any other positive test of a so-called "minor" drug would result in a two-year ban from competition.

Marijuana has caused other problems for Capel. A receiver at Florida, he was selected by the Chicago Bears in 2001, despite having tested positive for the drug at the draft combine. On May 5, 2001, he was charged with possession of marijuana and was released by the Bears.

In 2002, he failed to make the roster for the Kansas City Chiefs.