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Swimmer Jessica Hardy gets another shot at the Olympics

Hardy withdrew from the 2008 Games after a positive drug test, but with her eligibility restored, she should be a factor in London.

April 25, 2012|By Lisa Dillman
  • Jessica Hardy competes in the 100-meter breaststroke on her way to winning the event at the Indianapolis Grand Prix of Swimming in March. Hardy is hoping to win gold in London after being banned from competing at the 2008 Beijing Olympics.
Jessica Hardy competes in the 100-meter breaststroke on her way to winning… (Michael Conroy / Associated…)

Dave Salo watched his swimmer show up for work every morning in the fall of 2008, armed with more than determination and a desire to erase the past and push the fast-forward button four years.

But Jessica Hardy was not going to be able to settle or solve her issues in 24.48 seconds or 1:04.45, her personal bests in the 50-meter freestyle and 100 breaststroke.

No amount of training, in or out of the pool, was going to influence the Court of Arbitration for Sport or the IOC regarding future Olympic eligibility for the Long Beach native, who missed the 2008 Games because of a positive drug test.

"You could tell it was wearing on her because she didn't know where it was going to go," said Salo, who has coached the 25-year-old Hardy since she was in high school. "I've been around her long enough where I can put the brakes on and say, 'Stop.' "

This wasn't exactly a full stop. It was more like a yellow caution light for the reigning world-record holder in the 100 breaststroke.

Salo suggested that she scale back to, say, three times a week. That is saying something because coaches coach and swimmers swim. Less simply isn't a word heard very often on the pool deck.

"You just want to go and you want everything to happen now," Hardy said this week at a Mission Viejo swim meet. "And that makes you a better sprinter but not a better person."

That applies to the lessons learned in 2008 when she tested positive for the banned substance clenbuterol, which she said was inadvertently taken. The positive drug test came at the Olympic trials in Omaha and were bookended by two negative tests, also in Omaha.

Hardy had qualified for the Olympic team in four events and voluntarily withdrew from the squad. In 2009, the American Arbitration Assn. found she met the burden of proof that her positive test was caused by a contaminated supplement. Hardy, who was suspended for a year, continues to pursue a lawsuit against the manufacturer. The manufacturer disputes the AAA's findings.

Though the AAA found that a sanction longer than a year's suspension would be "disproportionate to the facts of the case," Hardy still had to wait for the IOC executive board to determine her Olympic eligibility for 2012.

It came almost a year ago when the IOC ruled she was eligible and Hardy said in a statement that she was "ecstatic the IOC has recognized my unique situation and that the rule [Rule 45] does not apply to me."

She was referring to the specific rule that could have prevented her from competing in London. It prevents any athlete from competing in the following Olympics if the length of a suspension is more than six months.

More telling was Hardy's entry on her Twitter feed after the decision, referring to Aristotle: "Patience is bitter, but its fruit is sweet."

Hardy has gone well beyond 140 characters to tell her story. She has been writing a highly personal and candid blog on the ESPNW site, revealing a battle with depression and post-traumatic stress disorder after the positive drug test and suspension.

Her fiance, swimmer Dominik Meichtry, who will be competing for Switzerland in the Olympics, persuaded her to see a therapist. The only swimming she watched on TV during the 2008 Olympics was his event, when he raced in the 200 freestyle.

"Obviously, I'm the closest to him in my life and he recognized that I needed to do that and that really helped me," she said. "That helped break down the barriers that I can do everything myself and be strong. I don't have to be strong. I can ask for help and it really made a difference."

There are no quick fixes, and the path of progress is rarely straightforward outside the pool.

"It was a long journey," she said. "You think you're doing well at the time and you're doing the best you can. It just takes time and it takes constantly staying on it and eventually life will get better. Life will make sense again."

For Hardy, it's all coming together with the Olympic trials fast approaching. This month, she won the 100 breaststroke at a Grand Prix event in Indianapolis by more than two seconds while recording the fastest time in the world this year (1:06.12).

She will compete in the 50 freestyle, the 100 breaststroke and the 100 freestyle at the trials. Had Hardy been eligible for Beijing, Salo thought she would have won gold in the 100 breaststroke.

"It's funny. Every year, she's dominant in one event or the other," said Salo, who is the coach at USC and has been on multiple Olympic coaching staffs. "It goes from freestyle to breaststroke. From breaststroke to freestyle. Right now, her breaststrokes look really good again."

In time for Omaha? The Olympic trials are June 25-July 2, and for Hardy they will represent something of a full circle and perhaps a chapter or two in a future book.

For now, shorter forms of writing will suffice.

"I'm trying to write about a lot of things that aren't always talked about in swimming or sports in general," she said. "Using my obstacles and how I've overcome them. I'm trying to use that for people who are going through something. Anything that's difficult.

"I want to make people understand that you're not alone. It really took a lot for me to overcome my struggles and stuff. Now that I feel I've figured it out, I want to help everyone."

lisa.dillman@latimes.com

twitter.com/reallisa

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