USADA, which has a long history of prosecuting athletes who haven’t tested positive when other evidence becomes available, interviewed Floyd Landis when he became the first athlete to say publicly he witnessed drug use by Armstrong last May. After Landis made the allegations, the agency formally opened a wide-ranging investigation into doping in cycling.
“There is absolute historical precedent for USADA or [the World Anti-Doping Agency] to come in and adjudicate,” said Steven Ungerleider, an anti-doping expert with close ties to both agencies. “We have seen precedent where athletes have been stripped of their medals and earnings retroactively.”
The results can be dire for athletes found guilty of doping offenses, even if the rulings come years after the fact. If an athlete is found guilty of using banned drugs, all the results that occurred after that doping offense took place would be disqualified.
USADA chief executive Travis Tygart declined Monday to comment on the significance of Hamilton’s public statements but said in an e-mailed statement that “any anti-doping case initiated by USADA will be based on the actionable evidence obtained through a fair and thorough investigation.”
Armstrong, who has been under investigation by the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Los Angeles, has repeatedly denied ever using performance-enhancing drugs while attacking the credibility of his accusers. Both Landis and Hamilton tested positive for drugs and lied about their drug use for years before coming clean.
“Landis and Hamilton are simply not credible witnesses: They both lied about their own doping — and then made money by raising millions of dollars from friends in support of those lies,” Armstrong’s publicist Mark Fabiani said in an e-mail. “Now, when it has become potentially profitable, they’ve completely changed their stories.”
The World Anti-Doping Code places an eight-year statute of limitations on bringing doping charges, but one attorney said USADA would likely argue that the statute of limitations does not apply in a case involving fraud or concealment. Another countered that Armstrong’s first four Tour victories might be untouchable, with only the last three in jeopardy. Both attorneys declined to be identified because they did not wish to publicly comment on the case.
“I don’t think that issue has ever come up in a doping case,” one attorney said.
Hamilton alleged he witnessed Armstrong doping for three years beginning in 1999, when Armstrong won his first Tour de France; Landis claimed he witnessed doping between 2002 and ’04. Armstrong won seven straight Tour titles from 1999 to 2005.