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USA Today feature: Jessica Hardy grateful to be back

Jessica Hardy was here four years ago – anticipating the U.S. Olympic swimming trials, feeling like she was in top condition.

She qualified for the 2008 Summer Games at those trials in the 100-meter breaststroke and 50-meter freestyle. But weeks later, during a pre-Olympic team camp, she got bad news: She had tested positive at trials. She withdrew from the team.

Hardy, 25, successfully argued that a contaminated supplement led to the positive. An American Arbitration Association panel reduced her two-year ban to one year.

She won the 50-meter breaststroke (a non-Olympic event) at last year’s world championships and was part of the USA’s silver medalist 4×100 freestyle relay.

Now she’s here again – anticipating the June 25-July 2 trials in Omaha, trying to make it to her first Olympics. The Los Angeles resident is aiming to compete in the 100 breaststroke, the 50 free, the 4×100 free relay and the 4×100 medley relay at the London Games.

She spoke recently to reporters at the U.S. Olympic Committee media summit in Dallas.

I’m naturally a breaststroker, since I was a kid. Obviously, that just was something I excelled at very easily growing up. Then, I would always enter the 50 freestyle competitions because they didn’t have 50s for breaststroke. So I would just enter it, even when I was bad at it, and do it and do it. I eventually just got really strong.

It’s stressful to just have one race, to travel across the country for one race. I’m really grateful, even in practice, to get to train two strokes. It’s really fun.

Having qualified before and now really starting to prepare for the Olympics – going through that whole excitement – I’m so much more appreciative of it now, so much more excited about it.

I’m neurotic about (what she puts in her body). I’m extremely careful. …I don’t drink waters if they’re not sealed. I look at every single label before I eat it. It’s still a learning process. I’m not an expert at all. But I just ask a lot of questions and try to learn as much as I can about it.

I have to believe in the drug-testing system as an athlete in order to have peace of mind, because if you were suspicious about all your competitors it would be a waste of energy. I think (anti-doping officials) do the best they can, and I believe they do the best they can.

I definitely don’t judge anyone until I know the facts now.

I’m a comfortable spokesperson (on anti-doping). Bringing awareness to other athletes and to the general public is something I’m impassioned about doing, maybe a little bit (more) after my career has progressed. But I think if I can use that to help any other person, I’m grateful to do so.

There was some anger. But it’s been a lot of using that to make me stronger. So I’m really grateful now to have gone through that and used it to help me, a lot.

It needs to become a story of inspiration, overcoming adversity, and being a better person, a stronger person. And getting hopefully to have the successes that I’ve been dreaming of for a long time.

I’m going to continue swimming. The way I train is so fun, and the events I compete in are the type of events where you can train longer. As long as I’m competitive, and I’m not getting my butt kicked too bad, I’m going to stick around.

Contributing: Vicki Michaelis, via USA Today

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