Helped by a laboratory's blunder, Tyler Hamilton will be allowed to keep his cycling gold medal.
The International Olympic Committee dropped its investigation Thursday into a blood test from the Summer Games that showed Hamilton used a transfusion to boost his endurance. The decision was made because the Athens lab mistakenly put his backup sample in a deep freeze, not because the IOC thinks he was clean.
Hamilton, who declared he is "100 percent innocent," tested positive for blood doping on Aug. 19 after his time-trial win. The finding could not be confirmed because there were not enough intact red blood cells in the second sample, the IOC said.
An athlete is considered guilty of doping when both samples from a drug test are positive.
The last American to lose a gold medal for a drug violation was Jerome Young of the 4x400-meter relay team in 2000. He tested positive for the steroid nandrolone in 1999 and was stripped of his medal from the team, which included Michael Johnson.
Asked whether Hamilton had slipped through the net, IOC medical commission chairman Arne Ljungqvist said, "It's up to everyone to draw his own conclusions."
Although Hamilton's gold is safe, he is not yet in the clear.
Both blood samples taken from Hamilton at the Spanish Vuelta on Sept. 11 came back positive, his Swiss racing team Phonak said.
The tests allegedly show evidence of a transfusion with blood from another person. Blood transfusions can boost endurance by pumping oxygen-rich red blood cells to the muscles.
It's up to the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency and the International Cycling Union to decide whether to take action against Hamilton for the positive tests in Spain. If found guilty of blood doping, the 33-year-old could face a two-year ban.
ICU spokesman Enrico Carpani said the federation would not comment until USADA had dealt with the case. The U.S. body, which handles cases involving American athletes, has 30 days to deliver its findings, he said.
"This is a matter still being reviewed. As such, we're not in a position to comment," U.S. Olympic Committee spokesman Darryl Seibel said. "We understand that if it is going to be adjudicated, it will be adjudicated by USADA."
Phonak plans to investigate the accuracy of the new tests.
"Since the new method is an effort based on probability and interpretation measurements, uncertainties will remain in this examination and procedure in any case," the team said.
Phonak said Hamilton is suspended from racing but remains on the team, pending the review.
Hamilton could not be reached for comment after the IOC announcement. But earlier, in a statement on the Phonak Web site, he said, "I am sure that the gold medal that I worked so hard for will stay in my hands.
"I guarantee that I represented the United States of America as an honest, clean and proud athlete."
BASEBALL: A new round was added to the qualifying tournament for the 2008 Beijing Games, a system that could have given the United States a second chance to get to Athens. Qualification for the eight-team competition now will be two phases, the International Baseball Federation said. Also, qualification will be based on results over an entire tournament, with single-elimination games no longer part of the format.
An Athens lab froze Tyler Hamilton's second blood sample, which didn't leave enough red blood cells intact to confirm doping charges.