Intentional or not, US swimmer Jessica Hardy’s positive drug test denies her a trip to Beijing

After testing positive for a banned stimulant, one of the top swimmers on the US Olympic team has decided to withdraw just a week before the Games open in Beijing.

Jessica Hardy, who broke the world record in the 50-meter breaststroke this spring, was a strong medal contender in the 100-meter breaststroke and was also slated to compete in the 50-meter free and 400-meter relay.

Ms. Hardy, who said she had never heard of the drug clenbuterol before being notified of her positive test, had engaged prominent doping lawyer Howard Jacobs to contest the result in an arbitration hearing this week. But after the hearing, the US Anti-Doping Agency announced on Friday that Hardy opted to withdraw in “the best interests of the team.” She has the opportunity, however, to come back to the arbitration panel with more evidence to reduce the usual two-year ban for the July 4 positive test, which occurred in between two negative tests at the US Olympic trials in Omaha.

Mr. Jacobs, who has represented high-profile athletes such as Marion Jones and US cyclist Floyd Landis, says that two-thirds of his clients have unwittingly tested positive – often because the nutritional supplements they’ve taken are contaminated with banned stimulants.

But some, such as top NCAA swimmer Kristen Heiss, blogging for Swimming World magazine, argue that whether drug use is intentional or not, athletes should still be held accountable.

“In my mind, this is still an inexcusable reason for a positive drug test. Athletes are constantly being reminded that supplements are not regulated by the FDA: the nutritionist at USA Swimming sends out information telling athletes that the supplements may contain many additional, illegal substances besides what is listed on the label.”

Regardless of how the arbitration turns out for Hardy, it has denied not only her a place on the Olympic team, but three other athletes who would have qualified for Beijing had Hardy been out of the picture.

Seattle swimmer Tara Kirk, a six-time medalist at World Championships, missed qualifying for the 100-meter breaststroke by .01 seconds behind Hardy and another swimmer. Now, it is too late for her to be named to the team because the deadline for registering swimmers was July 21. But, she writes on her blog:

“I have been told by people within the USOC [US Olympic Committee] and USA swimming that USA swimming knew about [Hardy’s] positive drug test before the entry deadline.”

No word yet on whether USA Swimming will, as Ms. Kirk suggests, fight for a late entry for her and the other two athletes. If not, Olympians who qualified in other events will fill Hardy’s slot.

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