A win for Jessica Hardy, and common sense

Jessica Hardy, who never did anything wrong but who had to sit out the 2008 Olympic Games anyway, was cleared Thursday to try to make the 2012 London Games. Good for her.

Good for the U.S. swim team, for the U.S. Olympic Committee and for the International Olympic Committee.

Finally, common sense prevailed.

"This feels great. This is, like, the best feeling ever," Jessica Hardy said in a telephone interview.

Echoed her attorney, Howard Jacobs, ""It's great for her. Finally. No question marks for Jessica."

The decision announced Thursday also marks yet another example of the warming relationship between the USOC and IOC, and comes the day after the two committees said they had mutually agreed to take the case involving the U.S. sprinter LaShawn Merritt to sport's top tribunal, the Lausanne, Switzerland-based Court of Arbitration for Sport, for expedited resolution.

Here is the difference between the two matters:

Merritt, who tested positive for a banned substance found in a male enhancement product, received a 21-month suspension from competition. His ban ends this July.

Before the 2008 Summer Games the IOC enacted what's commonly known now as the "six-month rule." It  purports to bar any athlete hit with an anti-doping ban longer than a half-year from competing in the successive edition of the Games -- in Merritt's case, London in 2012, even though his ban is due to end in July 2011.

Behold the complications:

Technically, Merritt would be eligible for the 2012 U.S. Olympic Trials. But would he want to run at the Trials if he couldn't compete at the Games themselves? If he did run, and qualified, could an American or English court compel his position at the Games? Big picture -- is the "six-month rule" an impermissible double penalty on top of the 21-month ban or is it merely, as the IOC contends, an eligibility rule?

All these questions. Both the USOC and IOC need answers. That's why they moved together to take Merritt's case to CAS.

And now for the Hardy case.

She tested positive in July 2008 for the banned substance clenbuterol. It somehow got into a dietary supplement she had been taking.

The two-year suspension typical in even a first doping case was later cut in half.

So what about the six-month rule?

The rule went into effect on July 1, 2008; she tested positive on July 3; there was no way she would realistically have known about it.

In an April 21 letter to USOC chief executive Scott Blackmun, the IOC said it simply would not apply the rule in Hardy's case.

The very, very best thing about this is that Jessica Hardy gets to hold her head high on the pool deck. She doesn't have to worry about anyone whispering anything -- anything -- about her. She didn't do anything wrong.

It took a long time for the authorities to say so. But that's exactly what they said: Jessica Hardy did not do anything wrong. Now all she has to do is go out there and swim.

"It's really, really, really amazing," she said. "It was a long three years waiting around, hoping and training and preparing for the best. Now I can not wait for the future.

"It has been kind of hard," she admitted. "I have been emotionally fragile this whole time. To have a definite answer three years later is amazing. I am more excited than ever."