Finally, Jessica Hardy, whose Olympic dreams last summer were shattered by a failed drug test even though she vehemently denied she ever took any performance-enhancing substance, has been vindicated.

The American Arbitration Association Panel on Monday announced that she could resume her swimming career on Aug. 1 and that her testing positive for clenbuterol was caused by contaminated Advocare Arginine Extreme supplement.

"I am extremely happy that the arbitration panel was persuaded by my scientific proof of supplement contamination, and that they believed me when I told them that I never have and never would use performance enhancing drugs," said Hardy, a 2005 Wilson High graduate who had qualified to participate in four events - the 100 breaststroke, 50 freestyle, 400 relay and 400 medley-relay - at the Beijing Games.

"I'm looking forward to returning to competition as soon as possible and proving that my prior successes, including the Olympics Trials, were achieved solely through hard work and discipline with no shortcuts."

So, in essence, Jessica Hardy will wind up having been suspended for a year, but it could have been two - and an almost certain disqualification from trying out for the 2012 Olympics - had the AAA Panel not sided with Hardy, who has been taking classes at Long Beach State since last September.

Still, there is a possibility that Hardy, who was suspended last Aug. 1, could be kept from competing in London, since the International Olympic Committee has a new rule in place that prevents athletes from competing in the Olympics for eight years if they have been penalized for more than six months for a positive drug test.

But the arbitrators stated that such punishment for Hardy would be "grossly disproportionate," and that they would retain jurisdiction to reconsider the length of her penalty if the IOC did not waive the application of its new rule.

When Hardy was asked why her suspension wouldn't be lifted until August, she replied, "I don't know, but I'm satisfied with the ruling because my penalty is six months shorter than any other person has received in my category."

Hardy was optimistic that she will be allowed to try out for the London Games.

"I'm 99-and-a-half percent sure that I'll get my chance," she said.

Understandably, Hardy was in a giddy mood Monday.

"This has been a nine-and-a-half-month nightmare that has kept me in a perpetual state of limbo," she said. "Now, finally, I can start training seriously again and now know when I can race again. I'm just so gratified by the arbitrators' decision.

"I know some people want to trash you when you fail a drug test. They always think the worst. I just can't tell you how difficult this has been for me. It's turned my world upside down.

"You work all your life to make the Olympics, and then you are denied by a tainted supplement from a company that assured you of the purity of its product. I have two more weeks of school, and then I'm going to start hitting it hard."

"This, obviously, is a great day for Jessica," said Olympic swimmer Susie Atwood, the Millikan High graduate who competed in 1968 Mexico City Games and the 1972 Munich Games. "Everyone knew that she was clean and never messed with any performance-enhancing drugs. It's obvious the arbitrators agree."

"I'm overjoyed for Jessica," said Olympic swimmer Kathy Drum, who competed in the 1976 Montreal Games. "I know she will come all the way back and swim great in London. She is a great swimmer and has a great future."

No one is happier about the latest developments of this riveting drama, of course, than Hardy, as well as her mother, Denise Robinson, and stepfather, Bill Robinson, a Naples residents.

The latter is an attorney who's taken an active behind-the-scenes role on behalf of Hardy, and is involved in on-going litigation against Advocare.

"I can't say enough good things about the tremendous support I've received from my family, as well as teammates, competitors, and fans all over the world," said Hardy. "The support system for me has been great."

One of her most passionate supporters has been her longtime boyfriend Dominik Meichtry, a Swiss swimming star who participated in the Beijing Games. 

A friend and I had dinner with Meichtry and Hardy in Paris on New Year's Eve, and Hardy was in bright spirits.

"It's been a numbing experience," she admitted at the time. "You learn to live with it, but it always is on my mind. `Why me?' I keep asking myself at times. I just hope one day the truth comes out. I did nothing wrong. That's what is so terrible. I did nothing wrong."

And, according to the AAA Panel, Hardy didn't do anything wrong.

And didn't deserve what happened to her.

"I now just got to forget the past and concentrate on the World Cup competitions in the fall," said Hardy.

She will resume serious training later this month at USC under the tutelage of her longtime coach, Dave Salo.

"I'm ready to do what I do - and that's to swim," she said.

"I'll only be 25 for the London Games. I'll still be young. And I'll be there. That's still my dream, to perform in the Olympics. It was taken away once from me. It won't be taken away again."

Doug Krikorian can be reached at doug.krikorian@presstelegram.com