Spanish Doctor Accused Of Helping Athletes Dope, Botching Treatments
MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:
A well-known American cyclist was on the witness stand today in court in Spain. Tyler Hamilton testified in the trial of a Spanish doctor accused of masterminding one of the world's largest sports doping rings. Hamilton is a former teammate of Lance Armstrong, and he was stripped of his 2004 Olympic gold medal after getting caught and then confessing to doping. The doctor is accused of supplying Hamilton and dozens of other cyclists with banned drugs and performing blood transfusions. From Madrid, here's Lauren Frayer.
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LAUREN FRAYER, BYLINE: The documentary film "Wired to Win" chronicles Tyler Hamilton's fourth-place finish in the 2003 Tour de France. A year later, he won Olympic gold in Athens. But later that summer, he tested positive for having someone else's blood in his veins.
Hamilton testified today at the trial here in Madrid of the man he holds responsible, Dr. Eufemiano Fuentes. He's a Spanish doctor whom Hamilton says he paid about $140,000 for 15 blood transfusions between 2002 and 2004. Hamilton says he thought he was getting transfusions of his own blood. But something went wrong, he told the court by video link from Washington.
TYLER HAMILTON: The reason I knew that is because 30 or 45 minutes later, when I went to the bathroom, my urine was black.
FRAYER: With Hamilton's testimony, prosecutors are trying to show that Dr. Fuentes botched some treatments. He's charged with endangering public health, risking the lives of his clients. Hamilton also described secret meetings with the doctor beside a highway in Spain and secret telephones used to send untraceable text messages.
Hamilton has since confessed to doping and was stripped of his Olympic medal. He's become a whistleblower, denouncing his old teammate Lance Armstrong too. British journalist Giles Tremlett was in the courtroom today and describes Hamilton's demeanor.
GILES TREMLETT: He seemed very relaxed, not very loquacious, I have to say. And he gave very short answers, often far shorter, in fact, than the questions required. I think a lot of people in the press box were hoping for a long, self-revelatory session, and we didn't get that.
FRAYER: Hamilton was more forthcoming in his autobiography out last year, a doping tell-all entitled "The Secret Race." Italian journalist Filippo Ricci, who's also been covering the trial, recounts an anecdote from the book.
FILIPPO RICCI: Tyler had another problem. When he came here to Madrid, he got an extraction of blood. And he couldn't wait. He had a plane to catch. And he gets to the airport, and all his shirt is full of blood. You know, we're talking about cycling. This is not a Tarantino film or, you know, it's not - this is blood, and it's in the streets of Madrid. It's just incredible.
FRAYER: This trial has stoked suspicions about the breadth of doping in Spanish sports and which other famous athletes could be involved. Investigators are still trying to decipher code names on more than 200 bags of frozen blood confiscated from Dr. Fuentes' lab. The doctor has said he treated soccer and tennis stars too.
The courtroom has been packed with nervous representatives from other sports who fear their players could be implicated.
JOSE LUIS LLORENTE: We're really worried.
FRAYER: Jose Luis Llorente is the head of Spain's basketball players' union. He worries that a naive athlete could be duped by famous doctors like Fuentes.
LLORENTE: Many times, the athletes, he trusts in the coaches and the doctors. And there are many doctors and coaches who want to make a lot of money with these kind of methods.
FRAYER: Fuentes faces two years in prison if convicted, and Hamilton's career is already over. He was banned from cycling. At the close of testimony today, the judge asked Hamilton if he had anything to add. Yeah. I'm sorry, he said. I'm sorry for breaking the rules. For NPR News, I'm Lauren Frayer in Madrid.
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