Hardy's Positive Test Rocks Swimming

Jessica Hardy qualified for the Beijing Games in three events.
Jessica Hardy qualified for the Beijing Games in three events. "She didn't take any prohibited substance," attorney Howard Jacobs said. (By Nati Harnik -- Associated Press)
  Enlarge Photo    
By Amy Shipley
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, July 25, 2008

A world record holder on the U.S. swimming team tested positive for a banned stimulant at the U.S. Olympic trials this month, her attorney acknowledged yesterday, shattering U.S. Olympic officials' hopes of escaping drug controversy in the run-up to the Summer Games.

Jessica Hardy's positive test for clenbuterol, a prescription drug for breathing disorders often abused for its weight-loss properties, sent shock waves through the U.S. swimming team as it prepared for its departure to Singapore today for a pre-Olympic training camp. The Olympics open in Beijing in two weeks.

Hardy, 21, of Long Beach, Calif., faces a possible two-year ban for the July 4 positive test, her attorney Howard Jacobs said.

U.S. swimmers have dominated the sport for most of the last decade, yet they have stayed largely immune from the doping charges that have confronted much of the athletic world since federal agents broke up a steroid ring run out of a California supplements company in 2003. No prominent swimmers were charged as a result of the bust of the Bay Area Laboratory Cooperative, or Balco, which led to doping bans or federal charges in track and field, Major League Baseball and the National Football League.

Meantime, with the five-year-old Balco scandal seemingly on the wane, Olympic officials have taken great pains to distinguish this Olympic team from drug-tainted ones of the past, insisting that drug-free U.S. athletes would compete at the Aug. 8-24 Games in Beijing.

"Anybody who would [take drugs] in the United States would be so disgraced, I'd be hard-pressed to see any of our athletes doing it," USA Swimming National Team Coach Mark Schubert said during a phone interview this summer. "The victory would not be worth the risk of getting caught."

Jacobs said Hardy has not taken any banned substances and is trying to figure out why she tested positive. She hopes for an expedited appeal so she can still compete in Beijing, her attorney said.

"Her stance is she didn't take clenbuterol," Jacobs said. "She didn't take any prohibited substance. She is challenging it. We're in the process of setting up an arbitration hearing right now."

Clenbuterol has been abused in the bodybuilding community for years. It is considered a weight-loss aid, and bodybuilders take it to make themselves look cut. Baseball players David Segui and Jason Grimsley admitted using the stimulant, and pop star Britney Spears reportedly has used it.

Hardy tested positive July 4 but produced negative tests July 1 and July 6, Jacobs said. The U.S. Olympic swim trials in Omaha ran from June 29 through July 6. The positive test was first reported Wednesday by Swimming World magazine's Web site, which cited a swimming coach as its source.

"It seems not to make sense," Jacobs said. "There are a lot of things we're looking into, and this is certainly one of them."

On the night she produced the positive sample, Hardy finished fourth in the 100-meter freestyle. It wasn't good enough to make the Olympic team in that event, but she won a spot on the 4x100 relay team. She also made the team in the 100 breaststroke and 50 free.

Because Hardy's case is pending and the International Olympic Committee deadline for roster submissions in swimming has passed, USA Swimming cannot add athletes to the roster in Hardy's events. Should she be disqualified after the arbitration process, U.S. swimming coaches could move athletes who already qualified for the team in other events into her Olympic slots.

Hardy broke the world records in the 50 and 100 breaststroke at the short-course (25-meter pool) world championships in Manchester, England, in April. She stormed onto the scene in swimming at the 2005 world championships in Montreal, where she set a world record in the 100 breaststroke in her semifinal heat.

USA Swimming Executive Director Chuck Wielgus declined to comment on the matter but said in a statement: "USA Swimming has been notified of the anti-doping proceeding involving a U.S. athlete. The matter is being handled by USADA and we are hopeful that the matter will be resolved expeditiously. Out of respect for the hearing process, USA Swimming will have no further comment at this time."

© 2008 The Washington Post Company