Tara Kirk Vows to Continue Fight

BREMERTON, Washington, August 21. AFTER putting a self-imposed moratorium on discussing Jessica Hardy's withdrawal from the U.S. Olympic Team, and the subsequent insertion of Rebecca Soni in her place, Tara Kirk has returned with another blog at Universal Sports.

Just for a refresher, in case you haven't kept up with the case. Hardy tested positive for clenbuterol, a banned substance, which led to her being banned from the sport for two years. Tara Kirk, who finished third in the women's 100 breast, would normally have been the person slotted to replace Hardy on the team.

The positive test announcement came too late, however, based on USA Swimming's timeline for adding a new member to the team. At that point, the fastest available swimmer to have made the team via the standard qualifying procedure was then put in Hardy's place. Soni wound up being the benefactor and also had an amazing meet. On top of taking silver in the 100 breast, she also upset Leisel Jones in the 200 breast with a world record.

Clouding the situation even further is that the testing facility has since apologized for a mistake in sample testing that led to USA Swimming not being officially informed until much later than planned.

After having an emergency arbitration meeting, Kirk's appeal to be added to the team was denied.

Kirk has since made a public statement on her blog, seen here in its entirety:

Duty to the athlete
August 19th, 2008
Swimming made history at the Games last week and it was pretty impressive. There were awe-inspiring performances by many of our swimmers and, of course, no one will forget what Michael Phelps did, there in that pool. I hope that their performances will inspire a new generation of swimmers who will continue our tradition of excellence. But now that swimming has finished at the Games I feel it is appropriate to again speak up about the conduct that destroyed my opportunity to compete in the Olympics.

A few things have happened since I shut down my commentary on the flawed selection process that wreaked havoc on my Olympic dreams a few weeks ago. Ron Judd of the Seattle Times broke the story of the lab mistake that allowed Jessica's positive sample to sit for weeks in the lab. In the article, the lab acknowledged that they made a mistake in labeling the sample for normal testing instead of expedited. Obviously, this is a very frustrating revelation. Furthermore, the lab director said that no one from USA Swimming or the USOC called to check on the missing sample as the entry deadline approached.

In fact, I have heard USA Swimming officials say that they had every confidence that all of the drug tests would come back negative. While I can understand that no one would have expected a positive test, why do we take those tests in the first place if they aren't going to consider and plan for the possibility? Even if the drug tests had come back by July 11th, as USA Swimming now says it expected, it is not certain that the hearing and appeals process could be finished by the entry deadline anyway. Regardless of how you look at it, USA Swimming was negligent in this situation, both in planning and execution.

I have read USA Swimming's responses to the arbitration decision two weeks ago and witnessed their lack of acknowledgment that they made any mistake in this whole process. It has become clear to me that a simple rule change will not be enough to prevent another deserving athlete from being kept off the team in the future. We still need to change the rules but we also need to change the mindset behind the rules. USA Swimming needs to be reminded of their primary duty to the athlete. They need to remember that they must do what is best for swimming and the athletes not simply what is best for "US Swimming, Inc."

During the arbitration the question was asked…what's the worst that could happen if USA Swimming put me on the team as an alternate pending the outcome of Jessica's hearing? The answer basically was that they could be sued. A lawsuit should not be USA Swimming's worst nightmare. Their worst nightmare should be bungling their Olympic selection process, leaving someone at home who should be on the team. Their worst nightmare should be destroying someone's dreams. We are living that worst-case scenario. The most disgusting part of it all is that USA swimming doesn't really seem to care.

Obviously, the swimming has passed and it is too late for me to ever compete at these Games. But I am still working on this and still fighting to be named to the Team, if only for the honor. I will also continue in hopes that the right decisions will be made in similar situations in the future. Though this experience has been terrible, it could only be made worse if I had to watch someone else go through it four years from now and think that if I had only tried harder I could have saved them this sorrow.

For more blogs from Kirk, please visit her page at Universal Sports.

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