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Good news for Hardy

US swimmer Jessica Hardy has had her two-year suspension for a failed drug test reduced to one year. reports that the move will allow her to return to the race pool this summer, but not in time for trials for Rome 2009 world championships, nor indeed the big event itself.

The American Arbitration Association on Monday issued its decision, saying that a longer sanction would be disproportionate to the facts of the case. Hardy’s suspension ends July 31. The case was never put to the International Court of Arbitration in Lausanne.

The 22-year-old sprinter from Long Beach withdrew from the US Olympic team last August, nearly a month after she tested positive for clenbuterol, a prohibited anabolic agent, at the US Olympic trials. Hardy, a world s/c champion, qualified for the Beijing Olympics in two individual events – the 100m breaststroke and 50m freestyle — and the 4x100m freestyle relay.

A letter from Hardy’s lawyer mentions “a problem of contamination of the sample”. That, however, turned out not to mean contamination of the sample in the laboratory, which would have negated the test if proven to be accurate. Rather, it referred to a “contaminated Advocare Arginine Extreme supplement”. In other words, the banned substance was found in a product it ought not to have been in.

Under WADA rules, responsibility for anything that enters an athlete’s body rests with the athlete, and were the case to have been heard before the CAS, the statement from Hardy’s lawyer that she “received personal assurances from Advocare regarding the purity of its supplements” would more than likely have been be viewed in that light.

Similar cases that have involved food supplements and have gone to CAS, including the case of Olympic champion of 1996, Claudia Poll (CRC), resulted in a full two-year suspension being upheld. Poll continues to argue her innocence. She tested positive for norandrosterone, a metabolite of the banned steroid nandrolone, in FINA unannounced out-of-competition testing on February 25, 2002 in Costa Rica. She was suspended for four years, subsequently reduced to two when the WADA Code came into force.

A press release issued in the US by Hardy’s legal representative also stated: “The arbitrators found that under all of the circumstances, Jessica Hardy should receive the shortest possible suspension allowed under the rules.”

The ruling does not, however, mean that Hardy has been exonerated. Should Hardy wish to take a shot at London 2012 selection, she would  require a change to IOC rules that exclude anyone who has served a doping suspension of more than six months.

The case highlights the dangers of taking supplements without first having those supplements rigorously tested and approved of by any official body or national team doctor. There is a case for extending all checks and balances that exist for swimmers who are likely to make the US national team (or many other national swim teams) to year-round monitoring of what is being taken by whom and when beyond normal dietary intake.

Speaking through her lawyers, Hardy was reported as saying: “I am extremely happy that the Arbitration Panel was persuaded by my scientific proof of supplement contamination, and that they believed me when I told them that I never have and never will use performance enhancing drugs. I look forward to returning to competition as soon as possible and proving that my prior successes, including at the Olympic Trials, were achieved solely through hard work and discipline, with no shortcuts.

“The past year, including missing the 2008 Olympic Games, has been heartbreaking, the most difficult year of my life. It was made more tolerable by the numerous expressions of support I received from teammates, competitors, and fans all over the world, for which I will always be grateful. I look forward to again representing my country, and will prepare for the upcoming season with the utmost determination.”