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Hardy Hardship Ends In 53.96 Berth

Jun 30, 2012  - Craig Lord

US Olympic Trials, Omaha, Day 6 finals:

Women's 100m freestyle

The roller-coaster ride to this point has been immense for Jessica Hardy, on 53.96 for victory and an Olympic debut four years after having been denied in troubling circumstances.

On the team in 2008 over 100m breaststroke, she was then dropped after returning a positive doping test. The nightmare was followed by challenge and appeal, penalty reduced and case won on the grounds that the substance was found in a food supplement that had more in it than it said on the tin. 

Hardy arrived in Omaha as a strong candidate to join Team USA in London in the same 100m breaststroke event but a big leap for Breeja Larson ahead of world champion Rebecca Soni put paid to that. Next up, it came down to the 100m free for relay or solo and turned  out to be a tick in both boxes.

In a tight finish, Missy Franklin, still pointing from a 2:07.91 in the 200m backstroke semi, managed a 54.15 for the second berth in London 2012, the relay berths going to Allison Schmitt, 54.30, Lia Neal, 54.33, and reserves Amanda Weir, 54.41, and Natalie Coughlin, 54.44. There was no place for Dana Vollmer (already on the team) or the half-way leader, Madison Kennedy.

On the emotional ride and qualification, Hardy said: "I still don't believe it really happened. I think I haven't practiced my emotions yet. It's amazing. I'm on a different planet now, and I think that swim for me was 100 percent emotional. It was heart the whole time. It wasn't so much physical capacity, just staying calm and enjoying it, I think. I think that's what made the difference.

From the moment she knew she had been banned four years ago, she had been determined to race on: "I think as soon as I was told I wasn't allowed to compete, it was the first thing I wanted to do again. And during the time I was suspended it was a lot of - I put a lot of emphasis into my training and appreciated every single second in practice, and I still do now. It's something that's changed in my over my career, how much I enjoy swimming in practice, and every race I get to do is fun and an opportunity, where before it could be stressful. I think going through the heartbreak of my 100 breast this week, rekindled that emotion, what I went through in 2008, and for a 24-hour period I was pretty sad and upset. I think it brought out a better swim in me tonight, and I am definitely more surprised because of that breaststroke."

Hardy saw potential in the fact that it will be freestyle in London not breaststroke: "It's really crazy. In warm-up I haven't done a single stroke of breaststroke or breaststroke kick, and I've been doing breaststroke my whole life, so it's pretty weird. I think it's going to be good to put some emphasis into freestyle and learning that technique because I'm still green in that event, still going best times which I'm not doing in breaststroke and haven't done that in a while. So it's fun and it's a lot less stressful of a race for me, and I'm excited to get to do that this summer."