A cult hero at the Rio Olympics, Jarrod Poort was an hour from home.
Sitting on a train from Sydney airport in February – after flying back from Perth, where he won the Rottnest Island channel race – the text message alert pinged.
The drug testers had arrived at his door.
The words on the phone, written by his father Gary who had met the ASADA officials, were like a sledgehammer blow.
He knew the implications, the consequences.
A third strike.
A 12-month ban.
Poort, adamant he’s always been a clean athlete, estimates being tested on at least 30 occasions last year, including a dozen times in the three months leading into and during the Games in Brazil.
As the train rattled towards Wollongong, Poort felt helpless as he tried to think through the situation, his world as an elite athlete crumbling around him.
“I knew straight away,” he told the Mercury.
“I’d just left the airport and my dad had texted me.
“The enormity just hit me, I couldn’t believe it.
“I was just really annoyed with myself.”
Six months beforehand, Poort had captured the imagination of the Australian public, when he launched a breakaway solo swim from the start of the 10km Olympics race.
Poort’s tactical decision was never before attempted, certainly on such a big stage.
And it looked like he might just pull off an unlikely gold medal, until swamped by older and more experienced rivals on the final lap.
Sporting fans across the nation, staying up to watch the Australian Opals women’s basketball team in a quarter-final hours later, were captivated by Poort’s daring.
So how did the two-time Olympian come to serving a ban from all competition barely a year later?
The first strike came in April last year, having failed to update his ‘quarterly whereabouts’ input, a system where athletes enter the competition and training schedule three months in advance, notifying ASADA officials of testing availability. It can be updated later, where an hour per day needs to be nominated to be available for testing.
The second was for the same offence, again failing to do the paperwork before boarding the plane for Portugal, where he would qualify for the Olympics in late June.
Poort finished seventh there, needing to be in the first nine, and beat Aussie teammate Simon Huitenga to the line in the process, earning his spot.
Fast forward to this week and Poort had been officially notified of a 12-month ban, announced on Thursday afternoon. Remarkably, he’d gone from back-packing around Europe after competing in Rio – updating his drug testing availability the whole time – only to falter as he was about to launch a new four-year Olympic cycle.
“It totally slipped my mind to put it in (the system) that I was going over (to Perth),” he said.
I get treated as a drug cheat would essentially, that’s the way it isJarrod Poort
“And I was kicking myself when I found out they came to test me.
“I think I was still in holiday mode.”
From training 17 or 18 kilometres per day before the Rio Games, to hardly being bothered to dive into the pool at all.
He withdrew from the world championships team after winning the national title. He has had all ties with Swimming Australia and his coaches cut until September next year.
However, Poort insists he isn’t chasing public sympathy.
Flatly denying any darker meaning to his ban, Poort says he struggled mentally with the situation, but he accepts the demands which come with keeping a clean sport.
“I get treated as a drug cheat would essentially, that’s the way it is,” Poort said.
“I didn’t want to take it to the Court of Arbitration.
“It has been weighing on me quite heavily and mental health is a big issue.
“One way where I was dealing with it was shutting myself off from the entire world.”
At the same time, two other Rio Olympians, Madeline Groves and Thomas Fraser-Holmes are also facing bans.
Poort first qualified for the Olympics in London in the 1500m, at the age of just 17.
Unable to return until September 5, 2018, he now has no idea whether he will return to the grind in search of another Games.
He has shifted focus to a career as a commercial property agent in Wollongong and is also developing an ocean swim safety course.
“I’m so proud of the things I’ve done with swimming,” he said.
“I was never a talented athlete as a youngster, I just put in a lot of hard work.
”I’m only 22, by no means am I too old to not keep going, it’s just whether it’s something I really want.
“I don’t do things half-arsed, I full commit to it, that’s the way I was brought up.
“I’ll make that decision over the course of the next year.”