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Ron Judd's Olympics Insider

Ron Judd, an Olympics junkie and Seattle Times columnist who has covered Olympic sports since 1997, will use this space to serve up news and opinion on the Summer and Winter Games -- also inviting you to chime in on Planet Earth's biggest get-together.

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August 5, 2008 3:33 PM

USA Swimming still owes USA answers about Hardy case

Posted by Ron Judd

As the Opening Ceremony nears, the U.S. swim team has arrived en masse in Beijing -- reportedly to a layer of smog inside the Water Cube swim venue, which can't be of much comfort to the asthmatics in the crowd.

And earlier today, or yesterday, or tomorrow, or whatever it recently just was in Beijing, Mark Schubert, the U.S. National Team director, finally took a few minutes to answer some questions about the Jessica Hardy case.

Sort of.

Schubert told reporters that USA Swimming was just following protocol when it learned of Hardy's positive drug test -- which, he reiterated, was not until the afternoon of July 21. That happened to be the same day the final Olympic swim roster was due to the U.S. Olympic Committee, which had its own, international deadline two days later. Unlike other sport federations, USA Swimming, inexplicably, does not have a procedure for adding alternates to the team. So once the roster is final, it's final, he said.

Schubert also insisted Hardy was not officially "off" the team until she withdrew from it herself last Friday -- a development that might come as a surprise to other athletes busted for doping, who usually find themselves suspended immediately. Therefore, it was impossible, Schubert insists, to name other swimmers who finished third in events behind Hardy at the Olympic Trials -- such as former Standford swimmer Tara Kirk of Bremerton -- to the squad.

Kirk was livid, and probably rightfully so. She's not going to feel any better after reading Schubert's one noteworthy admission in his mini press briefing in Beijing: Yes, the selection system is flawed, he acknowledged, and needs to be amended next time around.

"Absolutely. Rightfully so," he said in response to a question from a New York Times reporter about the need for reform in the selection process.

"Nobody thought we would be getting drug test results on the 21st and 22nd of July," Schubert added, according to the Los Angeles Times.

All of this, coupled with yesterday's revelation, reported below, that Hardy essentially put her appeals case "on hold" while testing her nutritional supplements for traces of clenbuterol, the banned anabolic agent for which she tested positive, still leaves a shroud of confusion hanging over the matter. Some obvious questions that still need to be addressed by USA Swimming -- and the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency:

-- We're all now painfully aware that USA Swimming has no rules provisions for alternates. But why? Why doesn't USA Swimming adopt a process, like most other sports, where third-place finishers are automatically granted provisional, "alternate" status until it's clear everyone on the Olympic team will be injury-free, dope-free, and ready to compete? What happens if an entire busload of swimmers, God forbid, gets in a bus crash after the roster is set? The U.S. just stays home? Who are the geniuses responsible for this? It's not the first time a U.S. swimmer has tested positive, and likely won't be the last.

-- How in the world can it take, in today's modern, supposedly high-tech anti-doping world, 17 days to get from pee-in-the-cup time to alert-the-authorities time? Don't they get these test results overnight at the Olympics?

-- Is anyone at USA Swimming aware of how bad this all looks when one considers the background of officials likely in on this decision? The swimmers filling Hardy's 100-meter breaststroke and 50 meter freestyle slots in the Games will be Rebecca Soni and Kara Lynn Joyce, respectively. They've done nothing wrong, and did nothing to deserve being thrust into a controversy. But most swimming insiders know that Soni, who finished fourth -- one place behind Kirk -- in the 100 breaststroke, swam for Schubert at USC. And Joyce's club coach is Jack Bauerle, who happens to be the current Olympic women's swimming coach.

Yes, they're just following the rules, which stipulate those two swimmers fill the slots. And granted, it's hard to avoid those sorts of potential conflicts of interest in a world as insular as swimming. But it still smells a bit, especially in light of the close-mouthed approach to the matter. At the very least, the governing body opened itself up to charges of favoritism.

-- Why was Hardy allowed to "withdraw" from an Olympic team from which she presumably already had been suspended? USADA officials, in a news release following her de facto plea deal last Friday, practically cooed about her selflessness, which they said was in the best interests of the U.S. Olympic team. OK. But since when are the best interests of the U.S. Olympic team a legitimate matter of concern for USADA, an agency that's supposed to be policing that Olympic team?

Clearly, USA Swimming officials hoped the Hardy deal would make the matter die away quietly before the focus returns to the Swim Team in Beijing. And, sadly, they may yet succeed in that effort.

Or maybe not. People like Kirk, a former national team captain, are still out there, livid, trying to tamp down a burning well of anger, feeling the powerlessness that comes with having multiple doors slammed in your face. You get the sense that Kirk, even though she deserves them, hasn't gotten any better answers to all of the above questions than the rest of us have.

She deserves at least that. And so far, not a single one has been forthcoming from USA Swimming, the organization she has always been assured is there to look after her rights.

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Blogroll and links The official International Olympic Committtee site, with news releases, a searchable Olympic medals database and other archival information. Olympic news site from one of the Games' primary sponsors.
NBC Olympics columnist Alan Abrahamson's column/blog
Chicago Tribune Olympic sports writer Philip Hersh's blog U.S. Olympic Committee's athlete web site. Ed and Sheila Hula's Olympic News Service (subscription). News service with audio, video and text coverage of Olympic sports, during and between Olympics. Free, but charges for live video feed subscriptions. Beijing Organizing Committee Web site. Vancouver Organizing Committee's 2010 Winter Games site. London 2012 Summer Games site. Sochi, Russia's 2014 Winter Games site. Candidate city Chicago's summer 2016 bid committee site.
Olympic swimmer Tara Kirk's highly entertaining WCSN blog
Bellevue Olympian Scott Macartney's WCSN alpine ski-racing blog
Other WCSN Olympic athlete blogs.