LOS ANGELES - Jessica Hardy's first trip to the Olympics could be over before it begins. The swimmer tested positive for a banned substance, leaving her just two weeks to pursue any appeals before the Beijing Games.
Hardy's "A" sample from the recent U.S. Olympic trials tested positive.
In Beijing, Hardy was expected to be a medal threat in the 100-meter breaststroke, and to play an important part on the U.S. 400-meter free relay team, and possibly the 400 medley relay.
Swimming World magazine's Web site first reported the positive doping test. The Web site nbcolympics.com reported Hardy's backup "B" sample also tested positive.
If she chooses, the 21-year-old swimmer can pursue appeals with the American Arbitration Association and the Court of Arbitration for Sport. With just two weeks to spare, Hardy could appeal directly to CAS, whose ruling would be final and binding.
Typically, a first-time doping offense results in a two-year ban.
Hardy earned spots on her first Olympic team in her best event, the 100 breast, and the 50 freestyle and 400 free relay.
"I don't think if you had told me a month ago that I would make it in all three of these events that I would have believed you," she said at the trials. "I'm expecting good things for sure."
Hardy burst onto the international scene at the 2005 world championships in Montreal, where she broke the world record in the 100 breast. Her time of 1 minute, 6.20 seconds still stands as the American record.
She swam at California for two seasons, winning the 100 breast at the 2006 and 2007 NCAA championships before turning pro.
USA Swimming chief Chuck Wielgus believes a culture of fair play and education is partly responsible for swimming's clean appearance.
"Within the culture of swimming, if you're doing something you shouldn't be doing, we want to catch you and throw you out of the sport," he said. "In other sports, it's about excuses and justifications and being innocent until you're proven guilty."
Hardy's name was among the 596 athletes officially entered in the Beijing Games on Wednesday by the U.S. Olympic Committee. If Hardy appeals and loses, the U.S. could not add to its swimming roster because the deadline to do so was July 21.
That might leave 41-year-old Dara Torres in the 50 free and Megan Jendrick in the 100 breast as the sole American entrants in those events. It was not immediately clear if the U.S. could move a second swimmer already on the team into those events.
Hardy's case involves Clenbuterol, banned nearly two years ago by the International Olympic Committee. It is one of five anabolic agents on the World Anti-Doping Agency's prohibited list. Although it has anabolic properties, it is not an anabolic steroid.
"It's a complex drug," said Dr. Don Catlin, who oversaw testing for anabolic agents at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics and who ran the country's first anti-doping lab at UCLA for 25 years. "We know very little about it."
Clenbuterol is not approved for use in the U.S., although it's accessible via the Internet and is popularly used for weight loss. It's legally used in American horse racing because it can increase lung capacity, although it must clear a horse's system within a prescribed time before a race.
Clenbuterol is approved in some countries by prescription to help asthma patients breathe easier.
Hardy's case recalls that of Jessica Foschi, who in 1995 tested positive for the anabolic steroid mesterolone at the U.S. nationals in Pasadena, Calif.
Foschi, then 15, denied knowingly taking the drug. The Court for Arbitration in Sport upheld her positive test for steroids, but reduced a two-year international ban against the Long Island, N.Y., swimmer to six months. The case was resolved in time for her to compete in the 1996 Olympic trials, but she didn't make the team.