By Charlie Snyder // usolympicteam.com // Feb. 12, 2004
Amanda Beard jumped onto the swimming scene in 1995 at the age of 13, qualifying for the Pan Pacific Championships, winning bronze medals in both breaststrokes and a silver in the medley relay. She had only learn to swim the stroke properly in the previous 18 months. Cut to 1996, where Amanda broke records and captured hearts at the Olympic Trials with her ever-present teddy bear and onto Atlanta where she grabbed silver medals in both breaststroke events and a gold medal in the medley relay at 14. Then Amanda grew and grew. Her body changed. She added four or five inches. For three years Amanda found herself out of the public eye and the top 25 world rankings. She brought it all back together in 2000, surprising many by making the Sydney squad, then shocking a few when she won a bronze medal in the 200m breaststroke. She had made it through the teenager burnout stage of her career.
Then things got really interesting.
She went to the 2002 Pan Pacifics and won both breaststroke events. At the 2003 World Championships, Amanda had a semi-modest goal: she wanted to drop a second off her best time of 2:25-low and break the American record. She achieved that goal and then some, winning the world title and tying the world record with a 2:22.99, an amazing drop of time. Now Amanda is preparing for Athens and seriously considering Beijing as well.
usolympicteam.com caught up with Amanda at the 2004 U.S. Spring Nationals, the night after she won the 200m breaststroke with her second-fastest time ever.
Q1: Who is watching your dogs when you’re on the road?
AMANDA BEARD: “Actually, right now, my cousin, Holly. She’s a freshman at the University of Arizona. She house sits and watches my dogs for me. One is a border collie German Shepard and the other one is a sheltie. The sheltie is named Jerry after Jerry Garcia from the Grateful Dead and the border collie German Shepard’s name is Harley, after Harley Davidson.
“I’ve always loved animals. I’ve always had an affinity for them. If I could have had every animal, I would have, but my parents would have never let that happen. I just always loved them, so what else would I want to do, but get involved with trying to save them or educate people about them.”
“I work for a wildlife group called the Defenders of Wildlife. I work mostly with them on dolphins. They’re educating me and I’m trying to educate others. It’s an interesting experience. It’s taught me a lot and I’ll hopefully continue doing more with them.”
Q2: Would you say that you are more of a ‘glass is half empty’ type person or a ‘glass is half full’ type person?
AMANDA BEARD: “I don’t know … it depends on what kind of a day I think I’m having. I could go either way. I don’t think it will ever be set for me, depending on how my day is and what kind of a mood I’m in.”
Q3: So in 2003, when you touched first and won the world title and tied the world record, were you happy that you touched first and tied the world record or were you upset that you didn’t go a hundredth of a second faster?
AMANDA BEARD: “I mean, sure, I would have loved to have broken the world record and not just tied it, but you think about it, you know, if I would have went one one-hundredth fastest and broke the world record that would have been awesome, but if I went one one-hundredth slower, I wouldn’t even be able to say that I have a world record. Then it just drives me more to go faster to break the world record, not just tie it.
Q4: Plus, you had hoped to go 24 low or something … was that a bit of a shock?
AMANDA BEARD: “It was a huge shock. I mean my best time was a low 2:25, so it was like, ‘You know, I’d love to go a 2:24 and shoot for the American record. I think that would be amazing.’ I thought I was setting my sights high just for doing that. And my coach joked around, ‘Well, why don’t you just go for the world record?’ I was like, ‘Ha, okay, sure.’ And actually I shouldn’t have doubted myself.”
Q5: In a Sports Illustrated article prior to the 1996 Olympics, it said, “She needs 10 hours of sleep or she feels cranky.” Is that still true?
AMANDA BEARD (Big laugh) “No, no. I don’t get very much sleep. With early morning workouts and with school, you don’t get the privilege of getting a good night’s rest all the time.”
Q6: When was the last time you slept ‘til noon?
AMANDA BEARD: “Oh, I can’t sleep in … that would be amazing, if I could sleep in until noon. Usually I just wake up naturally around 7 or 8 a.m., even if I’m up until 2 or 3 in the morning.”
Q7: Also, in that article, it said, “A year and a half after starting to learn the correct way to do the breaststroke, she was swimming … at the Pan Pacific Championships in (1995).” Looking back now, does it seem odd to you that you were able to progress so quickly?
AMANDA BEARD “Yeah, but I also feel like I had a real good natural feel for the water. I was just talented at a very young age. And I just thought as soon as I could get everything in order, get the correct stroke down, I didn’t think anything was going to stop me. I mean, no matter what age I was.”
Q8: What did you learn in those years – 1997-1999 – when you fell out of the top 20 world rankings?
AMANDA BEARD: “Looking back, I’m really proud that I didn’t give up on myself. I still kept swimming no matter if I was getting first or eighth or whatever place I was getting. You can tell that I love this sport because I’d do it even if I’m not swimming that well. It was just great that I stuck with it. It obviously turned out pretty well.”
Q9: What advice would you have for girls trying to adjust to a growth spurt?
AMANDA BEARD: “It is going to be frustrating and it’s hard to deal with something like that, but all girls are going to have to go through at some point in their lives. It’s just how you handle it. You are allowed to have a bad year. It’s okay. You’re going to come back from it. It’s how you deal with it, how you learn from it. Really if you don’t give up and you just enjoy it no matter how well you’re doing … have fun with your friends and enjoy the experiences, you’ll get some great memories out of it and that’s what’s most important.”
Q10: During that time period, were you thinking about Sydney?
AMANDA BEARD: “I definitely thought about it and I wanted to go really, really bad, but I didn’t know what my chances were. I knew that I was going to really have to step it up and take a couple seconds off the times I had been going. I was very shocked at the 2000 Trials when I made the team, but I knew that I could do it, but I had to step up and show everyone else that I could do it.”
Q11: It’s an amazing story because so many young swimmers burn out and fade away, especially in the breaststroke events
AMANDA BEARD “I think people just give up on themselves. It took me like four or five years just to get best times again and I could have easily walked away from the sport and been like, ‘okay, well, I went to the ’96 Olympics,’ but I wasn’t satisfied with that, so I just wanted to keep going.”
Q12: How do you deal with pressure?
AMANDA BEARD: “I think it’s very easy to let pressure get to you. When you’re at big meets, there’s media, there’s other athletes … the whole surrounding and atmosphere is going to be stressful and is going to put a lot of pressure on you. I think you just learn to walk on the pool deck and not really take notice to those things. When I’m walking out to the block, I don’t really think about any sort of pressures that I have. I just think, ‘eh, I’ve done this race a bunch of times. I know what I can do. No one’s going to be crushed if I don’t go my best time right now.’ I just play, I guess, dumb.”
Q13: How would compare the pressure of getting on the blocks at a big meet versus getting in front of the camera for all these photo shoots you’ve been doing lately?
AMANDA BEARD: “Neither of them make me very nervous. I don’t mind being in front of the cameras. I always have a lot of fun. The photographers usually just try to goof around with you, so you feel confident in front of the camera. When I’m on the block, I’m very confident in what I do in the pool. Both are pretty easy for me to do.”
Q14: You’re already thinking about 2008, so if that would happen, it would be Jill Sterkel, Dara Torres, Jenny Thompson, and Amanda Beard … how’s that sound?
AMANDA BEARD: ”A great group to be amongst.”
So you really plan on pushing through to 2008?
“Yeah, I mean, right now I’m focusing on this summer, then after that I’m going to take it year by year. I’d love to continue swimming as successfully as I have, but you never know. I mean I could get injured, I hope not, but something could happen. I’d love to continue swimming to 2008.”
Q15: When the Hall of Fame calls, they’re probably going to want that teddy bear from ’96, do you know where that is?
AMANDA BEARD: ”I do. My dad has it at his house. I think it’s sitting in a closet someplace; I don’t know exactly where it is though.”
Q16: It’s not under glass on display somewhere?
AMANDA BEARD: “(laughs) Nah, I think it’s a little dusty right now.”
Q17: Did that teddy bear have a name?
AMANDA BEARD: “His name was Harold.”
Special Bonus Feature // Deleted Questions
Bonus Q1: You’ve traveled the world. Where have you had an especially tasty dinner?
AB: “I was in Nice once and had a gorgeous meal on the beach. I don’t even remember what I ate, but it was probably some really nice seafood and a bottle of wine. It was just … it was kind of romantic … and … very nice
And you were with a special someone?
“ … yes.”
Bonus Q2: Have you ever had a meal where you had something on your plate and you weren’t quite sure what it was?
AB: “Oh, many times. I’ve tried cow tongue and crocodile and ostrich.
Why would you eat the cow tongue?
“A very close friend’s family of mine, they cooked it; they’re from South Africa. I had to try a bite, but it was a little … it was weird. I just had to try it; it’s something that they eat normally.”
A little chewy?
“A little bit, yeah.”
Bonus Q3: What’s the deal with that Michael Phelps?
AB: ”He’s a stud.
Did you see his 200m backstroke today (at U.S. Spring Nationals, winning with the second-fastest time ever)?
“I did. If he can do something like that right now, I don’t think anything’s really going to be stopping him. He’s just talented all-around. He’s a very good athlete. He’s a sweetheart.”
This interview originally appeared on usolympicteam.com.
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