Jessica Hardy recalls missing 2008 Olympics in autobiography

Jessica Hardy
Getty Images
0 Comments

U.S. swimmer Jessica Hardy hopes to make her second Olympic team next year, but she knows it could have been her third trip to the Games.

Hardy delves into her career in “Swimming Toward the Gold Lining,” an autobiography published in October and available here.

In 2008, Hardy qualified for her first Olympics in the 50m freestyle, 100m breaststroke, 4x100m freestyle relay and the 4x100m medley relay.

She learned two weeks after the trials that the second of her three drug tests at that meet came back positive due to the trace presence of the banned stimulant clenbuterol.

Hardy spent much of the next four years in litigation trying to clear her name. She withdrew from the 2008 Olympic team and eventually determined that a supplement she took had been contaminated.

In 2009, a U.S. arbitration panel ruled in her favor, finding no evidence that Hardy intended to cheat, though she was at fault for negligent use of the supplement. Her ban was reduced from two years to one, and she returned to competition later that year.

Hardy made the 2012 Olympic team, shortly after settling another case with the supplement manufacturer, and in London earned gold in the medley relay, bronze in the 4x100m free relay and finished seventh and eighth in two individual races.

Now 28, Hardy was the second-fastest U.S. woman in the 100m breaststroke in 2015 and finished 10th in the event at the World Championships in Kazan, Russia, in August.

Here’s an excerpt from Hardy’s book detailing what happened in 2008:

Everything came crashing down on Monday, July 21. That morning I woke up and went to train for two hours with Dara [Torres]. After we finished I walked back to the hotel for my second breakfast and to take a nap. I ate and then I laid down for a nap. The phone rang in our room, and I remember hearing my roommate Rebecca [Soni] say, “She’s napping, can I take a message?” Then the next thing I knew she was waking me up and telling me that I had an important phone call. What could be so important? Was there bad news about my family or [boyfriend and Swiss Olympic swimmer] Dom [Meichtry]? She told me that I needed to go to the team manager’s room because it was very important.

As I walked into the room, a USA Swimming staff member handed me a notepad with a number on it and told me that I needed to call immediately. I asked her what was going on and she said it was very important and told me to call. When I called, someone from the United States Anti-Doping Agency answered and began to tell me that my drug test from the 100 free at the Olympic Trials came back positive for a banned substance called clenbuterol, something I’d never heard of before. I asked what it was and how it could happen. They told me that I needed to hire an attorney to give them permission to open up the B sample to see if it was indeed a positive test. I was trying to ask them questions about it and they weren’t really answering me. I asked them if it could have been because people around me were using inhalers. I asked them if it came from the food I ate or the water I drank. They didn’t answer me. They told me that I shouldn’t be discussing it with them and that I needed to hire an attorney.

Jessica Hardy bookI got off the phone with USADA and then we got the head coaches in the room. They were as shocked as I was and trying to figure out what to do next. They told me to find an attorney but not to discuss the situation with anyone else on the team. They told me I could get help from John Ruger, who was the ombudsman for the U.S. Olympic Committee (USOC). In the meantime I called my parents. I called [stepdad] Bill [Robinson] first because he was the only lawyer I knew. Bill was in complete shock, not only because of the news of a positive test, but because he didn’t even know where to begin in finding an attorney to handle the situation for me. I needed to talk to someone that I knew and trusted and he came to mind first. He told me to call my mom and let her know. In the meantime, he said he would call John Ruger, whose name and number I had given him.

I called my mom next and she happened to be driving somewhere with my sister, so they put me on the car speakerphone. I’m sure they expected to hear some more good news about how my training was going. When I told them the news my mom broke down crying hysterically. Then [sister] Amanda started crying too. Then I completely broke down. I was fine up until then but then it hit me full force. I cried like I’d never cried before. I was so scared and confused. Words can’t really explain the hurt, the confusion, and the agony I felt in that moment. All of my hard work, all of my dedication, all of my dreams, and it had all come to this. I would never even think about cheating or doing anything to get an unfair advantage in the sport I so loved and respected, but that’s exactly what I was accused of doing. How could that be? What did I do to deserve it? What more did life have to teach me? Why now? I knew this had to be a mistake and there had to be a way to fix it so that I could compete in the Olympics.

When Bill called John Ruger, he was put in touch with an attorney named Howard Jacobs. Howard is one of the best and most experienced lawyers in the world when it comes to cases like mine. He had handled a number of other PED (performance-enhancing drug) cases for all kinds of athletes. As a bonus, his office was not too far north of Los Angeles. Bill called him to get things started and we all talked together soon after that. Howard called USADA to allow them to open and test the B sample to see if it was also positive for clenbuterol. I was confident that the B sample would turn out to be clean since I knew I hadn’t done anything wrong. It took a few days to get those results back, but it ultimately came back positive as well. The team was leaving for Singapore in only a few days and I still thought that we could find an innocent explanation for the positive drug test so that I could go with everyone else. At first, we thought maybe my urine sample had somehow gotten mixed up with someone else’s, though I had no reason to think any of the other swimmers were using banned substances either. It seemed very strange that my second drug test in Omaha came back positive but not the first or third ones. Having made the team in my first race (100 breast), why would I take something to boost my performance in my second race (100 free), which wasn’t my best race anyway; and if I took something for the second race, why was it not also found after the third race (50 free) only a day or two later? None of it made sense.

One fact was beyond all shadow of a doubt: I knew I hadn’t intentionally cheated. I knew the truth would come out, I just didn’t know when. In one conversation with Howard, he asked me if I had been taking any supplements, which include things like recovery drinks, bars, and vitamins that many athletes take to enhance their nutrition. He told me he had seen many cases where nutritional supplements were responsible for other athletes’ positive tests, because the United States Food and Drug Administration doesn’t regulate them and they can have trace contamination in them. Many of them are made in China, or use raw materials from China, where the manufacturing and testing standards are not as strict as in the United States. Clenbuterol was legal for some uses in China and is a common ingredient in some weight-loss products from Asia. Howard said it was a possibility that a Chinese company making weight-loss drugs one day could be making nutritional supplements the next without thoroughly cleaning their equipment.

Howard told me to send him a log of every supplement I’d used, everything I’d drank, everything I’d eaten, and all prescription medications that I’d taken. He said that we were going to hire a lab to have everything tested to see where the contamination had come from. He also asked me to send him a list of anyone who could have sabotaged me by, for example, putting something in my water bottle while I wasn’t watching it, and to tell him about any sketchy situations that I had been in. I was blown away. I didn’t think about the possibility that someone could have sabotaged me. I certainly didn’t want to think something like that could have happened. But I had to think about everything in a new, suspicious light. …

The hearing with USADA was set to take place in a hotel near the Los Angeles International Airport. There were three arbitrators on the panel, all of who had a lot of experience with cases like mine. They had heard all the excuses from other athletes. Their job was to listen to the evidence presented by USADA and me, then to rule on which of us was right. I was so nervous driving from my parents’ home in Long Beach that morning that my hands were literally shaking as I held the steering wheel.

Before the arbitration was set to begin, Howard and Bill had very extensive and candid discussions with the USADA lawyers. It was obvious what the result would be if we went forward with the arbitration — I would be ruled ineligible for the Olympic Team and banned from all competition for two years. Bill and Howard talked with USADA about some alternatives and presented me with a bitter choice. They sat down with my mom and me for a very emotional conversation. I was told that if I agreed to voluntarily withdraw from the Olympic Team and accept a temporary suspension of my eligibility for any other competition, USADA would agree to postpone the arbitration until such time as I had evidence to present to explain the positive test. That was the moment where it all became real. It was gut-wrenching and heartbreaking. It was like someone stabbed me in my heart. I was crying hysterically and the rest of my family was crying too. We clung onto one another with hugs. It hurt so badly. All of my dreams were being flushed down the drain and I knew it was all a mistake that had nothing to do with me. I knew that the truth would have to eventually come out but I didn’t know how long it would take to have answers. I understood why I wasn’t allowed to compete but I didn’t understand how it had all happened. I didn’t understand why this happened to me. I knew with my whole heart that I didn’t do anything to deserve it. I couldn’t make sense of it at the moment.

I had to pull off of the team and withdraw myself from the Olympics.

How did U.S. women’s basketball replace its legends? It starts with Alyssa Thomas.

Alyssa Thomas
Getty
0 Comments

If this FIBA World Cup marks the beginning of a new era of U.S. women’s basketball, it is notable, if not remarkable, that no player has been more visible than Alyssa Thomas.

Thomas is making her global championship debut in Sydney. She is the only woman on the team in her 30s. Rarely, if ever, has a player who waited this long to put on a U.S. uniform made such an impact out of the gate. Certainly not since the last major tournament in Australia, when 30-year-old Yolanda Griffith starred at the 2000 Olympics.

Over the last week, Thomas leads the U.S. in minutes played and is one of two players to start all seven games along with Breanna Stewart, the Tokyo Olympic MVP. She ranks fourth on the team in scoring (10.6 points per game), is tied for second in rebounding (6.7), second in assists (4.6) and first in steals (2.7).

The Americans, with their new breakthrough power forward, face China in Saturday’s final, seeking a fourth consecutive world title and 60th consecutive victory between Olympic and world championship play dating to 2006.

“She takes a lot of pressure off of us,” two-time WNBA MVP A’ja Wilson said after Thomas had 13 points, 14 rebounds and seven assists in a quarterfinal win over Serbia. “I think she’s the glue of this team, the X-factor of this team, because that’s her game and that’s her style.”

Thomas earned the nickname “Baby Bron Bron” at the University of Maryland for her LeBron James-like play. USA Basketball took notice in 2013, when she was one of six collegians named to a 33-player national team training camp.

But that participation was the last of Thomas’ bullet points on her USA Basketball bio for another nine years, until she was named to the FIBA World Cup qualifying team last February.

Thomas had to wait her turn.

The U.S. was loaded in the frontcourt in the 2010s with older veterans — Candace ParkerTina CharlesSylvia FowlesBrittney GrinerElena Delle Donne — and then Stewart and Wilson came along, becoming arguably the two most valuable Americans in the last Olympic cycle.

Thomas produced, to that point, the best WNBA season of her career in 2020, but tore an Achilles playing overseas in January 2021, ruling out any chance of making the Tokyo Olympic team.

The combination of players’ absences this year — Charles, after three Olympic golds, ceded to younger players, Fowles retired and Griner is being detained in Russia — and Cheryl Reeve becoming head coach created an opportunity.

Thomas seized it, leading the Connecticut Sun to the WNBA Finals, where she recorded triple-doubles in the last two games of a series loss to the Las Vegas Aces. Then she boarded a plane to Sydney for her first major international experience and has similarly flourished.

Jennifer Rizzotti, part of the USA Basketball selection committee, said the 6-foot-2 Thomas combines the movement of Lindsay Whalen, the passing of Parker and the physicality of Rebekkah Brunson. She plays with labrum tears in each shoulder. There’s no single player like her.

“There’s definitely some post players that have that point forward mentality, but not quite with the guard skills that Alyssa has,” Rizzotti said. “I don’t see anybody, including guards, that can do what she does in the open court. Then you talk about how disruptive she is defensively and her ability to guard one through five. A’ja can guard one through five, Stewie can guard one through five, but nobody’s as disruptive as Alyssa is. On the perimeter and off the ball.”

Thomas also fit what Reeve, who succeeded Dawn Staley as head coach, was looking for in retooling the roster following the retirement of Sue Bird and possible end of Diana Taurasi‘s national team career at age 40.

“[Reeve] made it clear that she was hoping with the guard turnover that we would be able to play faster, more athletically, more possessions in the game,” Rizzotti said. “And therefore, she wanted to have post players that could push tempo, that could facilitate and kind of fit in with a ball-handling, passing mentality from the trail spot.”

Still, Thomas did not expect to be putting on a USA jersey this year. “Shocked” is the word USA Basketball chose to describe her reaction to making this team.

“It was kind of a surprise,” she said, according to USA Basketball. “I had just really taken my name out of it.”

Rizzotti said Thomas is an example — a very successful one, it turns out — of an asset in the eyes of the selection committee: patience.

“I think a lot of players feel like if they don’t make the USA national team right away, it’s never going to happen,” she said. “You get the comments like, oh, it’s political, or they keep inviting the same guys back. And it’s not true.”

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!

U.S., China set for FIBA Women’s World Cup gold-medal game

FIBA Women's World Cup Basketball
Getty
0 Comments

SYDNEY — Breanna Stewart and the United States used a dominant defensive effort to beat Canada and reach the gold-medal game of the FIBA Women’s World Cup for the fourth consecutive tournament.

Stewart scored 17 points and the Americans raced out to an early lead to put away Canada 83-43 on Friday, reaching a Saturday gold-medal game with China. The 43 points was the fewest scored in a semifinal game in World Cup history.

“Canada has been playing really well all tournament and the goal was just to come out there and really limit them,” said U.S. forward Alyssa Thomas. “We were really locked in from the jump with our game plan.”

China edged host Australia 61-59 in the later semifinal to reach its first global championship game since the 1994 Worlds, the last time it won a medal of any color. The U.S. beat China 77-63 in group play last Saturday, the Americans’ closest game of the tournament.

“Our goal was to to win a gold medal and we’re in position to do that,” U.S. coach Cheryl Reeve said.

The U.S. (7-0), which is on a record pace for points and margin of victory in the tournament, took control of the game early scoring the first 15 points. The Americans contested every shot on the defensive end as the Canadians missed their first nine attempts from the field. On the offensive end, Stewart, A’ja Wilson and Thomas basically got any shot they wanted.

“I think after that punch, it really took the air out of them,” Thomas said. “They didn’t know what to do with their offense anymore after that.”

MORE: FIBA World Cup Schedule, Results

Laeticia Amihere, who plays at South Carolina for former U.S. coach Dawn Staley, finally got Canada on the board nearly 5 minutes into the game making a driving layup.

By the end of the quarter the U.S. led 27-7. Canada had committed four turnovers — the same number the team had against Puerto Rico in the quarterfinals which was the lowest total in a game in 30 years.

The Americans were up 45-21 at the half and the lead kept expanding in the final 20 minutes. The win was the biggest margin for the U.S. in the medal round topping the 36-point victory over Spain in the 2010 World Cup.

Canada (5-2) advanced to the medal round for the first time since 1986 and has a chance to win its first medal since taking the bronze that year.

“We didn’t get it done today, but what we’re going to do is take this with what we learned today and how we can turn it up tomorrow,” Canada captain Natalie Achonwa said. “It’s still a game for a medal and it’s just as important for us.”

The U.S. has won seven of the eight meetings with Canada in the World Cup, although the last one came in 2010. The lone victory for Canada came in 1975.

The victory was the 29th in a row in World Cup play for the Americans, who haven’t lost since the 2006 semifinals against Russia. The Soviet Union holds the World Cup record with 56 straight wins from 1959-86. This is only the second time in the Americans’ storied history they’ve reached four consecutive gold-medal contests. They also did it from 1979-90, winning three times.

This U.S. team, which has so many new faces on it, is on pace to break many of the team’s records that include scoring margin and points per game. The Americans also continued to dominate the paint even without 6-foot-8 Brittney Griner, outscoring its opponents by an average of 55-24.

Amihere led Canada with eight points.

RECORD BREAKING

The low point total broke the mark of 53 that South Korea scored against Russia in 2002.

“We’re starting to build that identity,” Wilson said of the defensive effort. “We’re quick and scrappy and I think that’s our identity.”

The U.S. is averaging 101 points a game. The team’s best mark ever coming into the tournament was 99.1 set in 1994.

STILL RECOVERING

Kahleah Copper sat out after injuring her left hip in the win over Serbia in the quarterfinals. Copper landed hard on her hip driving to the basket and had to be helped off the court. She hopes to play on Saturday. Betnijah Laney, who also got hurt in the Serbia game, did play against Canada.

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!