Morgan Scroggy, from left, Dana Vollmer and Jessica Hardy dive at the start of a heat in the women’s 100-meter freestyle preliminaries at the U.S. Olympic swimming trials, Friday, June 29, 2012, in Omaha, Neb. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

By Julian Linden

OMAHA, Nebraska, June 30 (Reuters) – Jessica Hardy released four years of built-up emotion and frustration when she finally clinched her place in the United States swim team for the London Olympics.

The 25-year-old Californian, who has been at the center of a disputed doping case for four years, thought she had blown her chances when she failed to qualify in the 100 meters breaststroke, her favorite event.

But just when it seemed all was lost, she drew on all her experiences from having to fight just for the right to try and compete at the U.S. Olympic trials, with a surprise victory in Saturday’s 100m freestyle final.

“Never in a million years would I have thought I could win that race,” she told reporters after taking the final in 53.96 seconds.

“I thought breaststroke was my best stroke. What just happened? I’m so shocked and so happy and really grateful for that one. That was pure heart out there.”

Hardy is the current world record for 100m breaststroke and qualified for the event at the last Olympics in Beijing when her world came tumbling down.

She was told she had tested positive for the banned steroid clenbuterol at the 2008 U.S. Olympic trials.

The offense normally carries a two-year ban but she was given a reduced penalty because of the unusual circumstances of her case which turned into a legal saga.

She explained that she took nutritional supplements after having obtained assurances from the manufacturer that they were safe, only to discover later that the supplements had been contaminated.

Hardy withdrew from the Olympics then served a 12-month ban before returning to the sport only to learn that the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) had lodged an appeal against her penalty, demanding that she been given a two-year penalty and be banned from competing at the London Olympics.

The case was only resolved last year when the International Olympic Committee and the Court of Arbitration said she had served her punishment and could compete in London if she qualified.

“There were people telling me that I literally could not come to this meet up until a year and a half ago so it was hard to visualize myself here,” she said.

“Four years ago when I’m sitting on my couch in a ball crying my eyes out I never thought I would get through it. Literally I took it day by day, and looking back on it I’m still overwhelmed by what I had to go through, but I’m glad I survived it.”

Hardy said the whole experience of having to prove her innocence and the depression and stress she suffered as a result had changed her whole perspective on justice.

“I’m definitely the kind of person now who does not judge without learning all the facts,” she said.

“I’m sure there will be stuff said by people, but hopefully I can bring awareness to that issue.

“But I think my story has turned into a positive story, it’s not going to be a black eye to the U.S. team anymore.”