Open Letter to Swimming Community from USA Swimming’s Chuck Wielgus: A Response to the Jessica Hardy/Tara Kirk Situation

BEIJING, China, August 8. IN an attempt to more fully explain USA Swimming's stance on the replacement selections for Team USA regarding Jessica Hardy's expulsion from the team, and who wound up replacing her, USA Swimming Executive Director Chuck Wielgus asked Swimming World to post the follow open letter.

There is a great deal of misinformation being circulated about the situation regarding Tara Kirk. What has transpired over the past two weeks is incredibly unfortunate, and we must carefully evaluate what has happened to see what can be done to keep anything like this from happening again in the future.

For now, though, I'd like to try and set the record straight on a few items. First, none of this would have ever happened if Jessica Hardy had not tested positive for a banned substance. However, even when Jessica did test positive and was formally charged by USADA with a doping offense, she had the right to defend herself against this charge; remember, ours is a system in which you are innocent until proven guilty. Even after being charged, and throughout the time of her appeals process, Jessica retained her position on the Olympic Team. Subsequently, Ms. Hardy's hearing took place on July 31 and on August 1 she withdrew from the team.

Many people have suggested that at the time we knew that Jessica tested positive that we should have added alternates (including Tara Kirk) to the team. Unfortunately, the team selection procedures do not allow for the discretionary addition of alternates. If the procedures did permit this we would have immediately added Scott Usher (who finished in 3rd place at the Trials) as an alternate in the Men's 200 Meter breaststroke event in case it became necessary for Eric Shanteau to withdraw from the team and seek treatment for his cancer. As it was, and under the selection procedures, we were unable to add Scott as an alternate.

The procedures also clearly state that we were to submit our entries to the USOC by July 21 and that after July 21 no new swimmers could be added to the team. Furthermore, the procedures are very clear about what happens if an athlete withdraws from the team after July 21. If this happens, then a new swimmer is not added to the team, rather a member of the existing team is moved into that vacant event position and the selection of that athlete is based on which team member had the fastest time in that event between January, 2006 and July 6, 2008. So, if Eric Shanteau had to withdraw from the team after July 21 then Scott Usher could not be added to the team and instead the event position would have gone to Brendan Hansen, who finished 4th at the Trials, but who had the fastest time within the previously noted timeframe.

This example I have used is practically identical to the situation we faced with Jessica Hardy and Tara Kirk. In this latter case, however, two things have inflamed the issue: (1) Jessica's Hardy's positive test and the disrepute this brought to the sport; and (2) the notion that in our sport "the wall decides" and that if one of the top two finishers becomes ineligible then the vacated spot should go to the 3rd place finisher. As noted, however, Ms. Hardy did not become ineligible until August 1 and being that this was past the July 21 deadline there was no choice but to go to the "replacement" procedures to determine who would swim in the 100 Meter Breaststroke; and this was Rebecca Soni.

I hope this explanation is helpful. I realize that many people are very upset about this situation, but I also hope that those who are upset will try to understand the position that USA Swimming was in. While many people have suggested that I or others should have intervened and usurped the rules, this would have been completely unjustified and inappropriate. I have no doubt that we will be carefully re-evaluating the selection procedures following these Olympic Games and looking to make changes that will seek to eliminate similar problems in the future.

Respectfully,

Chuck Wielgus
Executive Director
USA Swimming