After Disputed Drug Ban, Hardy Dives Back In
Monday, September 7, 2009
The eruption of tears after Jessica Hardy absorbed what she saw on the scoreboard at the U.S. Open swim meet last month seemed disproportionate, on the surface, to the achievement. Sure, she had gone under the world record in the 100-meter breaststroke, but that was not new; she had set world marks previously.
And the meet itself? It wasn't significant enough to merit daily coverage from the local newspapers.
Yet soon after she touched the wall Aug. 7 in Federal Way, Wash., Hardy began sobbing. She sobbed coming out of the pool and on the deck.
Never before, she said later, had she experienced such an emotional reaction to a victory. But this was her first legitimate meet since she had been barred from competing in the 2008 Summer Games for a positive drug test that was later deemed by a U.S. arbitration panel to be the result of a contaminated supplement. The panel ruled in May her two-year ban should be reduced to "the maximum extent" possible and reinstated her in July.
She seemed to sense that, through her performance at the U.S. Open (she also set a world record in the 50 breast), she had stated to the world, more eloquently and effectively than in the previous 13 months, she was not a cheater.
"It was just like, 'Thank God,' " Hardy said. "It was so frustrating and so hard to win. . . . Having so many people thinking I cheated, and just having everything against me, to come out and do so well when I didn't expect it. It was perfect."
A perfect moment, perhaps, but not a perfect conclusion -- or, in fact, any sort of conclusion at all -- to what her stepfather Bill Robinson described as a "devastating" year. After being shunned, judged and condemned, and losing her sponsors, her place on the Olympic team and all of the money she had saved during her career in her legal fight to prove she hadn't knowingly taken prohibited drugs, Hardy is back in the pool.
But her battle is not over, and she's not sure her reputation will ever be restored.
"In a sense," Robinson said, "she lost. . . . The system is stacked against the athlete. I understand why it is. But it is."
USA Swimming will announce Monday that Hardy, 22, has finally and fully reentered the national-team fold: With her unexpectedly spectacular performance last month, Hardy clinched a spot on the U.S. team that will travel in December to Manchester, England, for a four-nation meet expected to include Michael Phelps and other top stars.
Yet the World Anti-Doping Agency and world governing body for swimming (FINA) have appealed the reduction in Hardy's ban and also want her barred from the 2012 Summer Games in London (because her suspension exceeded six months). To make up for years of perceived softness on the doping issue, international governing bodies now tend to take the most aggressive posture regarding flunked drug tests, almost regardless of the circumstances.
Hardy, for the moment, is trying to ignore the lingering uncertainty and focus on the climb she has made since July 21, 2009, when she found out about the positive test during the U.S. swim team's pre-Olympic training camp in Palo Alto, Calif.