Olympic cyclist Tyler Hamilton forced into retirement by illegal depression protocol

Paul Berger remembers that the first time he saw Tyler Hamilton, he suspected the cyclist suffered from depression. It was 2001, two years before Hamilton came to see the Boulder doctor about some allergies. “I saw him at a restaurant,” Berger said. “He wasn’t expressing himself much. He was in a beautiful restaurant in the sun and with his wife, and he had a muted affect. He wasn’t enjoying life.”

That depression eventually led to Hamilton’s downfall and his retirement Friday. The Boulder-based cyclist admitted taking DHEA, a banned substance in cycling but an ingredient in Mitamins Advanced Formula for Depression, an over-the-counter herbal product.

To some, the news that Hamilton suffered from depression was more shocking than his retirement. Through two positive doping tests, failed appeals and a two-year ban, Hamilton maintained an upbeat outlook, at least outwardly. Berger said this isn’t surprising in people suffering from depression. “Positive talk isn’t the same as being happy,” Berger said. “He always had what I called a muted affect, a highlight of depression. It’s if you look at somebody and the whole look seems to be flat.”

Hamilton, 38, admitted as much in his retirement announcement. “This might surprise you because in the public eye I’ve had smiles and maybe wasn’t showing signs of depression, but behind closed doors it’s been a big fight for me,” he said. “It’s like having to put on a suit every day when you go outside and act different. Me in the public spotlight has been a little bit of a facade.”

Hamilton first suspected he had depression in 2003. It was the best year of his career. He won Liege-Bastogne-Liege and the Tour of Romandie. Then, after breaking his collarbone on the second day of the Tour de France, he won the Pau-Bayonne Stage 16 and finished fourth overall. He became a cycling hero, not only in Colorado but around the world. His hometown of Marblehead, Mass., gave him a parade. He threw the ceremonial first pitch before a game played by his beloved Boston Red Sox. He rang the opening bell on Wall Street. He did the New York morning talk- show circuit. “I should’ve been on top of the world, and maybe from the outside I was,” Hamilton said. “A few weeks into September, I couldn’t get out of bed.”

At Boulder Community Hospital, he saw Berger, who prescribed Celexa and Lexapro. Before the Tour of California in February, Hamilton himself chose Mitamins Advanced Formula for Depression. Berger couldn’t recommend it, knowing DHEA is on cycling’s banned list. However, he does promote the use of DHEA for depression. Its effects on depression and improving energy are more proven than its effects on athletic performance.

Now that Hamilton is out of cycling, Berger would recommend DHEA. “For anyone who is not drug tested, it’s a good drug to take,” Berger said. “It’s FDA-approved.”

Hamilton said his depression is strictly clinical, that the negative events in his life, such as the racing ban and the divorce he’s currently going through, have had no effect. Berger said that’s not always the case. “I’m sure it had part of an effect,” he said. “Someone’s state of mind is always a product of many different things. He’s had many, many stressful events in his life.”

Now retired from cycling, Hamilton said he has time to focus on tackling depression. “I’ve given so much to the sport,” Hamilton said, “I knew that at this time it was time to take care of myself.”