REUTERS: Banned Italian former Olympic 50km walk champion Alex Schwazer indicated on Friday he had not completely given up on competing at the Tokyo Games after a court dismissed a doping case against him.
The 36-year-old said the judge's ruling had been the best day of his sporting career. The court in Bolzano found it "highly likely" Schwazer's urine samples were tampered with in 2016 to produce a positive test, Italy's Ansa news agency reported on Thursday.
"On a sporting level I would say that it is my best day ever. Without a doubt," Schwazer told the Corriere della Sera newspaper.
"This archiving decree is even more important than the gold medal won at the Beijing Olympics in 2008. This is a far more strenuous victory. Much more tiring."
The court offered a full acquittal, saying Schwazer "did not commit the crime".
Italian media suggested the athlete could go to the Swiss Federal Court and seek to overturn the eight-year ban, running to 2024, upheld by the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS).
Schwazer said he had achieved 90per cent of his target and "any return to competitive activity would only represent the remaining 10.
"The key thing for me was for the court to establish, in black and white, that I am clean and innocent. I don't have to go to the Olympics. If that happens, fine. Otherwise, patience. I have no idea about the steps to be taken on the sporting front."
Schwazer said his wife had made him a special chocolate cake with the Olympic rings on it, a gesture he likened to the birth of a son.
The athlete was banned for three years and nine months after admitting using the erythropoietin (EPO) blood booster in 2012, missing the London Olympics. He returned to finish first and help Italy win the world team championship title in 2016, but was then stripped of the title and banned from that year's Rio Olympics after losing an appeal in a second doping case, when a retest of a sample showed traces of steroids.
The World Anti-Doping Authority (WADA) reacted to the Italian court's decision by saying: "While the decision is lengthy and will need to be assessed in full, WADA is appalled by the multiple reckless and groundless allegations made by the judge against the organization and other parties to this case.
"Once the full judgement has been analysed, WADA will consider all options available, including what legal actions it may initiate."
(Reporting by Alan Baldwin in London, editing by...)