Amanda Beard, the youngest swimmer on the 1996 U.S. Olympic team, became a national hero when she captured one gold and two silver medals at the Summer Games in Atlanta. Fans adored the spunky 14-year-old from California, who clutched a lucky teddy bear on the medal stand, and who swam to greatness with a youthful innocence. Although her swimming career slumped just following the 1996 Olympics, Beard made a comeback. After winning a bronze medal in the 200-meter breaststroke at the 2000 Olympics in Sydney, Australia, Beard won an NCAA championship and again became a top contender in professional women's swimming. In 2002 she broke the American record in the 200-meter breaststroke, and collected several medals in national and international swimming competitions.
Beard was the youngest of three daughters born in Irvine, California. Beard's older sisters, Leah and Taryn, had joined a local swim program, piquing their little sister's interest. When five-year-old Beard told her family she would swim in the Olympics one day, her parents just smiled. "There wasn't exactly a swimming gene pool here," her father, Dan Beard told Leigh Montville of Sports Illustrated. "We weren't setting out to make
champions. We just liked the benefits of the sport, the competition, the fact that it makes kids schedule their time, the friendships that it brings." Beard also played soccer and softball, took jazz and tap-dancing lessons, and cared for the family's many pets.
Trained for Olympics
Beard started swimming for the Colony Red Hots; at age 13 she joined the Irvine Novaquatics. Upon Novaquatics' coach Dave Salo's recommendation, Beard's parents agreed to let their daughter start training full-time in swimming. She would swim five afternoons and three early mornings a week.
Initially, Beard disliked the breaststroke, preferring the vigorous butterfly. But training with Brian Pajer, an Olympic breaststroke finalist, changed her. In January, 1994, she clocked 1:33 in 100 meters; by August, she had pared to 1:15. At age 13, Beard skipped the junior national competition and went straight to the senior nationals, competing in faraway cities. She swam against the country's best at the 1995 Phillips 66 Spring Nationals, finishing third in the 200-meter breaststroke and fifth in the 100-meter breaststroke. Internationally, she swam in the 1995 Pan Pacific Competition, capturing bronze medals in the 100 and 200 breaststroke finals, and a silver in the 400 medley relay. By the following year, at the Olympic trials in Indianapolis in March, Beard sailed to first place in the 100 with 1:08.36, the second-fastest time in women's breaststroke history. At the press conference afterwards, the small, Olympicbound swimmer held the teddy bear.
Captures Three Olympic Medals
Beard became a media darling. She was the youngest member of the 1996 Olympic swim team, and the youngest Olympic swimmer since Nicole Kramer in 1976. Sports reporters regaled fans with stories about Beard's love for animals and her dream of pursuing an adult career as an interior decorator. "She likes to race and she refuses to be beaten," Olympic team coach Don Wagner told Johnny Ludden of the Washington Post. "I think her innocence in the sport is one of the things that makes her so good. She's not intimidated by anyone."
At the Atlanta Games, Beard was the Americans' best shot for a medal in the women's breaststroke. South Africa's Penny Heyns, the world-record holder in the 100-meter breaststroke, was another favorite. Beard had beaten Heyns in a pre-Olympic race, and she aimed to win again.
In the 100-meter Olympic final, Beard and Heyns squared off with six other swimmers. Off to a slow start, Beard, who did not wear goggles, had something in her eye early in the race. She started slowly, yet halfway through the race began passing her competitors. She finished second, just behind Heyns, who became South Africa's first Olympic gold medalist in 55 years. Beard, the silver medalist, was happy to learn she had set an American record at 1:08.09.
The 200-meter final was a replay of the 100: Beard started off slowly, then caught up to every other swimmer except Heyns, the former University of Nebraska star. "I just wanted a medal," Beard told the Detroit Free Press. "I didn't care what color it was. I'm happy with silver." Yet Beard would also take home a gold. Swimming in the 400-meter individual medley relay, she and Beth Botsford, Angel Martino, and Amy Van Dyken finished first.
Beard continued to train after the Olympics, but in 1997, she grew four inches, and her changing body perhaps affected her performance. In the 1997 U.S. Swimming national championships, she finished ninth in the 100-meter breaststroke. By 1998 her world ranking had dropped to 53rd in the 200 breaststroke. She quit swimming briefly, then returned as a college student.
When Beard attended the 2000 Olympic trials, she no longer carried her lucky teddy bear. Instead, the sophomore-to-be from the University of Arizona showed up with two tattoos and a pierced tongue. Though considered a long shot, she made the team, finishing second in the 200 breaststroke. "I saw the '2' by my name," she told the Associated Press. "Take 1996 and times it by 100, and that's how I was feeling."
At the 2000 Olympics, Beard captured the bronze medal in the 200 breaststroke. Her teammate, Kristy Kowal, took the silver. "My coach told me, 'You're in eighth. All you can do is move up,'" Beard told Harris. "I decided to go out there and give it a shot. I went all out and told myself I've got to do it."
Beard then competed as the University of Arizona's top breaststroker, winning the NCAA 200-yard championship in 2001. Later that year she decided to accept endorsements, making her ineligible for collegiate swimming. Her 2002 achievements included first place in the 100- and 200-meter breaststrokes at the Pan Pacific Championships. That year, she broke the American record in the women's 200-meter breaststroke.
Beard plans to compete in the world championships in July, 2003, in Barcelona, Spain.
Beard gambled at a young age, devoting herself exclusively to swimming, and it paid off in a successful career. "It's all great, but it's scary, too," her mother, Gayle Beard told Montville. "You have to put your trust in a lot of people, some of whom you really don't know very well."
|1981||Born October 29 in Irvine, CA|
|early 1990s||Swims with Colony Red Hots youth swim team|
|1994||Joins Irvine Novaquatics swim club; begins training seriously and competing nationally|
|1996||Wins two silver and one gold medal in Olympic Games in Atlanta, GA|
|1998||Drops in women's swimming rankings; retires briefly from professional swimming|
|1999-2003||Attends University of Arizona|
|2002||Breaks American record in 200m breaststroke|
Even after stumbling in the late 1990s, Beard had earned enough respect within swimming that people were still pulling for her. "No matter how old you are, what size you are, it's the heart that matters," said Staciana Stitts, a 2000 Olympic teammate. "Amanda had a lot of heart in that (trial) race. She really wanted it."
"Amanda Beard." Sports Stars. Series 1–4. U•X•L, 1994–98.
Harris, Beth. "Beard Defies Doubters for Second Olympic Berth." Associated Press (August 15, 2000).
Harris, Beth. "Krayzelburg Wins Second Olympic Gold." Associated Press (September 21, 2000).
Ludden, Johnny. "Beard's Pet Project Is '96 Olympic Games," Washington Post (July 24, 1995): C7.
Montville, Leigh. "'Kid Stuff." Sports Illustrated (July 22, 1996): 104.
"Amanda Beard." USA Swimming Official Website. http://www.usa-swimming.org/superstars/template.pl?opt=biosearch&name=226 (January 17, 2003).
Sketch by Wendy Kagan
Awards and Accomplishments
|1995||Third, 100m and 200m breaststroke; second, 400m medley relay, Pan Pacific Championships|
|1996||Qualifies for Olympics with second-fastest time in women's breaststroke history|
|1996||Silver medals, 100m and 200m breaststroke; gold medal, 400m medley relay, Olympic Games, Atlanta, Georgia|
|1999||Second, 100m breaststroke, World University Games|
|2000||Bronze medal, 200m breaststroke, Olympic Games, Sydney, Australia|
|2001||First, 200y breaststroke, NCAA Championships|
|2002||First, 100m and 200m breaststroke; second, 400m medley relay, Pan Pacific Championships|