• Jason Regan

Jack's back after 'brutal' swimming ban

Dean Boxall reckons no Australian swimmer has had it tougher.

Shayna Jack looks on before her Women's Open 100m freestyle heat during the Queensland Swimming Championships at the Brisbane Aquatic Centre, in Brisbane, Monday, December 13, 2021. (AAP Image/Jono Searle)

But he's seen enough since Shayna Jack's return to know her 901 days out of the water hasn't broken her, declaring "Paris is going to be exciting".

When the 23-year-old jumped off the blocks at last month's Queensland Championships it ended a torturous process that began in June 2019, when she was banned for four years after testing positive for Ligandrol.

Appealing successfully to the Court of Arbitration for Sport, Jack's ban was reduced to two years before she took another gut punch when Sport Integrity Australia objected and appealed that reduction.

But CAS rejected that appeal in September to allow the Brisbane talent back in the water under the eye of Boxall, named this week as Swimming World's coach of the year.

During those two years Jack wasn't allowed at the pool, while even her phone conversations with the master motivator were being scrutinised.

"She was calling me at midnight, struggling," Boxall recalled.
"My involvement was very limited, but I was a support mechanism and there was no way anyone was stopping me, that would have been criminal.
"She was here a year ago walking in and people saying 'get out of here, you aren't allowed to be here'.
"I don't think anybody in swimming in Australia has been what she's had to go through".

Jack was nervous ahead of her official return, admitting she feared being booed off the blocks at the Brisbane Aquatic Centre.

Instead, she was greeted by warm applause from the crowd, mostly mothers and fathers of fellow swimmers who had never met her.

"I knew I hadn't lost it with the training and I could see glimpses and knew I could do this," she said.
"The pain's still there ... all I wanted to do, my goal, was to come back and have fun, put a smile on my face and be happy.
"Not put a mask on like I have for the past two years.
"I'm feeling confident again, feeling like I've had that weight lifted off my shoulders, truly, now that I can race again."

Jack's ban was reduced when CAS ruled she did not knowingly ingest the prohibited substance.

But she still missed the 2019 world championships and delayed 2021 Tokyo Olympics, where she would have likely been part of a gold medal-winning relay team.

"I wanted to prove to everyone that I had never done anything they'd accused me of," Jack said.
"That was my first goal.
"When I was feeling down, wanting to give up, I had those people reminding me of my goals, dreams, everything I worked for.
"I knew I had to finish my fight (in court) and the next was coming back to the pool."

Jack was sharp in her December return, second in her 100m pet event behind impressive St Peters Western clubmate Mollie O'Callaghan.

"Two-and-a-half years, first race back, she did an amazing job," Boxall said.
"More gym, more training ... this is really exciting, Paris (2024 Games) is going to be fantastic."

World titles and the Commonwealth Games later this year come first though, both welcome targets for a previously aimless athlete.

"I am a very goal-driven person and just seeing what I have done after six months of training who knows what I can do in a year," she said.
"The Tokyo Olympics is what got my motivation back; seeing how much fun they were having and what they were capable of just reminded me I still want to do that.
"I was overwhelmed not to be there, but so proud and knowing I could be part of that team in the future got me going again.
"That fire had ignited and when I could connect with Dean again it was like 'let's do this'."