Hardy tests positive for little known drug

Swimming Doping
In this Aug. 20, 2004 file photo, Gary Hall celebrates after winning the gold medal in the 50-freestyle during the 2004 Olympics in Athens. Hall Jr. claims the sport of swimming has its share of doping cheats just like baseball and track and field. He said so before Olympic breaststroker Jessica Hardy tested positive for a banned stimulant. But others seem to believe a culture of fair play has allowed swimming to avoid the scandals that have damaged other sports.Mark Baker / AP
/ Source: The Associated Press

Gary Hall Jr. thinks the sport of swimming has its share of doping cheats just like baseball and track and field. In recent years, though, swimming has avoided the widespread scandals that have damaged other sports.

Some, like USA Swimming chief Chuck Wielgus, believe a culture of fair play and education is partly responsible.

"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.

"Our athletes are very informed about what drugs can do when they attack your system, what drugs are illegal."

Wielgus' comments at the U.S. Olympic trials earlier this month may prove prophetic in light of swimmer Jessica Hardy testing positive for the banned anabolic agent Clenbuterol at the trials.

Her attorney, Howard Jacobs, confirmed the drug positive Thursday.

The swimmer's agent, Evan Morganstein, has said he was told Hardy had two negative tests sandwiched around a positive sample at the trials.

Hardy, a 21-year-old swimmer from Long Beach, qualified for the Beijing Olympics in two individual events — the 100-meter breaststroke and 50 freestyle — and the 400 free relay. She was a strong contender to medal in her specialty, the breaststroke.

"Every day for the past four years I have had this in the back of my mind," Hardy, a former water polo player who didn't start swimming until she was 16, said at the trials. "I am so thankful and grateful that it has become reality."

Hardy burst on the international scene at the 2005 world championships, when she set a world record in the 100 breast. Her time remains the American record.

A bubbly, self-described "typical Southern Cali girl," Hardy typifies the clean-cut image projected by the U.S. Olympic swimmers.

"Our athletes are like All-American kids," Wielgus said recently. "If you align yourself with them, you don't run the risk of athletes being found in some strip club in Vegas."

Hardy is at home with her family in Southern California while her case unfolds after she left the U.S. training camp at Stanford.

The American team departs Friday for Singapore, where it will train until Aug. 4 before leaving for Beijing. The Olympic swimming competition begins Aug. 9.

Wielgus said USA Swimming has been notified of the anti-doping case involving Hardy, whom he did not mention by name Thursday.

"The matter is being handled by USADA and we are hopeful that the matter will be resolved expeditiously," he said in a statement.

Typically, a first-time offense results in a 2-year ban.

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.

Hall contends that all doping scandals are not a direct result of positive tests.

"Unfortunately, we rely on an inadequate doping system and doping agencies for the proof," he said recently. "We live in a society where innocent until proven guilty, the key word being proven, and we don't have any way of proving these people are cheating. We never did."

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.

In September 2006, more than 300 people in Shanghai were poisoned by eating pork contaminated by Clenbuterol that had been fed to the animals to keep their meat lean.

"It can be pretty toxic," Catlin said. "There have been some epidemics where human beings have ingested it by ingesting meat and that has given them some pretty bad reactions. That's surely one of the reasons it doesn't get into the U.S."

Catlin now runs Anti-Doping Research, a nonprofit organization he founded to research performance-enhancing drugs, uncover new drugs being used illegally and develop tests to detect them.

Catlin is a proponent of replacing drug testing at events — where samples are identified by numbers, not athletes' names — with using multiple blood and urine tests to establish a baseline for athletes, then comparing subsequent results against the baseline.

"The potential value is you can then stand up and say an athlete is in your program and you've been following them for a year and they're perfectly clean," he said. "That gives you the ability to say something nice about somebody instead of, 'You doped.'

"Most people don't dope, but those that do spoil it for everybody else. That's really a tragic set of circumstances."

Swimmers Michael Phelps, Dara Torres and Natalie Coughlin are among the Olympians who signed up this year for the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency's new pilot drug-testing program that is similar to the one Catlin favors.

Torres is on her fifth Olympic team at age 41. She said she sought the extra testing to quiet rampant speculation that she uses performance-enhancing drugs.

"I have to prove it now and that's why I have done this," she said.

Torres' coach, Michael Lohberg, has been in the sport more than 30 years and agrees with Hall that swimming has its share of cheats.

"I don't think we will ever have a clean sport," he said. "The testers can only find what they are looking for and there will always be people in this world for whatever reason — fame, money — will always find ways to cheat and be ahead of everyone else."

Lohberg blames the increased sponsor money that has flowed into swimming in recent years for providing greater incentives to cheat.

"If there is no prize, why would you do it?" he said. "It's a part of the game and you have to make that decision for yourself, and can you live with yourself and what kind of person you are."

Wielgus agrees the temptation to cheat exists, but, outside a superstar like Phelps, most swimmers don't earn millions.

"You can make a comfortable, middle-class living," he said. "But it's not going to send you into the stratosphere where you have five Rolls Royces in the garage."

Hall has called for WADA to create a list of allowed supplements instead of just the current list of what is banned. He said calling the WADA hot line and asking if a certain supplement is acceptable gets the same response: take it at your own risk.

"There's not an OK list, maybe we should create an OK list," Hall said. "It would make it a lot easier for the athletes. It certainly doesn't help the athletes that are kind of in the dark on these things."