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Former US running star says she worked as a prostitute

By Brendan O'Brien

MILWAUKEE (Reuters) - Former U.S. Olympic runner Suzy Favor Hamilton, one of the biggest U.S. track and field stars of the 1990s, worked as a prostitute over the last year to cope with depression, the middle-distance champion said in an apology on Twitter.

Favor Hamilton confirmed what she called a "double life" after an online tabloid site, The Smoking Gun, reported the story on Thursday, including details that she had charged $600 an hour while working for a Las Vegas escort service.

The three-time Olympian, and multiple All-American and U.S. champion from Stevens Point, Wisconsin, tweeted that she became a prostitute because it provided coping mechanisms to deal with struggles in her marriage and her life.

"I realize I have made highly irrational choices and I take full responsibility for them," she tweeted on Thursday. "I am not a victim here and knew what I was doing."

Using the alias "Kelly Lundy," the attractive, fit, blonde-haired Favor Hamilton, 44, traveled to cities such as Chicago, Los Angeles and Houston with dates, The Smoking Gun said.

"As crazy as I know it seems, I never thought I would be exposed, therefore never hurting anybody," she tweeted.

She lives in Madison, Wisconsin, where she runs a real estate firm with her husband and does motivational speaking and promotional work for the Wisconsin Potato and Vegetable Growers Association and the Disney running series.

The Wisconsin Potato and Vegetable Growers Association said on Friday it had terminated its agreement with Favor Hamilton, who helped promote potatoes as part of a healthy diet.

"We are deeply sorry to have learned about Suzy's struggles. We did not see this coming," said Duane Maatz, executive director of the association.

On her Twitter feed, Favor Hamilton cited depression as one of the causes for her actions and that she had been seeking help from a psychologist for the past few weeks.

She disclosed to the Smoking Gun that her husband, a lawyer and her college sweetheart, knew that she worked as a prostitute and tried to stop her.

"He wasn't supportive of this at all," she was quoted as saying.

Favor Hamilton ran in the 1992, 1996 and the 2000 Summer Olympics. She also won nine NCAA titles and 14 All-American awards during her illustrious career as a middle-distance runner.

During the 2000 games, she ran into controversy when a Nike commercial depicting her attempting to outrun an attacker was pulled after the shoe company received complaints that the spot downplayed violence against women.

Favor Hamilton is also remembered for the 2000 games in Sydney for falling during the 1,500-meter final. She revealed to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel in July that she fell on purpose after realizing she was not going to win the race.

In addition to Nike, she has also been endorsed by Reebok, Oakley and Clairol, according to her site. Nike said on Friday that its contract with her ended in 2006.

"I cannot emphasize enough how sorry I am to anyone I have hurt as a result of my actions and greatly appreciate the support from family," she tweeted.

(Editing by David Gregorio, Greg McCune and John Wallace)

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