Jennifer Goldstein (writer),
Warwick Saint (photographer),
Risa Knight (stylist)
Amanda Beard has swam in the Olympics four times, dissed Michael Phelps, and been tattooed on LA Ink. Now back from Beijing, she's ready to dive in to life outside of the pool. By Jennifer Goldstein
Michael Phelps is boring. Sure, he's one of the greatest swimmers ever, but where's his personality? His ego? His edge? In the interviews after the Olympics, all he could do was stick to the script: He thanked his team. He thanked his mom. He was humble. He was gracious. He was mind-numbingly dull.
Luckily, USA Swimming has a more interesting (and better-looking) athlete—Amanda Beard. The 27-year-old swimmer's Beijing Olympics didn't go as well as Phelps' (more on that later), but she seemed to be having more fun. In fact, the rumor in Beijing was that she had hooked up with Phelps after his win. It didn't happen, and to set the record straight, she joked to a Tucson, AZ radio show: "Eww, that's so nasty! ... Come on, I have really good taste."
USA Swimming would probably have preferred if she politely denied the relationship but anyone who knows Beard, knows she'll do anything for a laugh— and she doesn't like to follow the rules.
Beard grew up in Irvine, CA, and got her start in the pool when she was just 4. She was a strong swimmer, but she was horrendous at the breaststroke. So her coaches forced her to work on the stroke, until one day, she says, "It just blossomed." At 12, she became a breaststroker. When she was 13, she won a U.S. national title in the 100-meter breaststroke and medaled at the Pan-Pacific Championships. At 14, she joined the U.S. National team and began training for the 1996 Olympics.
Fourteen isn't young to excel in sports like gymnastics and diving, where a tiny frame and extreme flexibility help you. But swimming is different. You need height, a muscular chest, long arms, and a lot of power. In 1996, at 5 foot 3 inch and 92 pounds, Beard didn't look anything like an Olympic swimmer. But she made the team and went on to win silver medals in the 100- and 200-meter breaststroke. On the medal stand, with her gangly frame and a smile that was almost too big for her face, she held a teddy bear as she accepted her medals. Most people thought she brought the bear along because she was sweet and shy, but Beard says the incident was "kind of a joke." "My sisters were messing around with me, and they said, ‘We dare you to take that out to the blocks with you.' And I was like, ‘I totally will.'"
She should be glad she accepted their dare; that teddy bear cemented Beard in American's minds as the adorable face of the Olympics. But as cute as she was, Beard wasn't exactly an all-American sweetheart. Less than three years after her Olympic debut, at 17, she was in the tattoo shop to get her first tattoo - not something you could picture an Olympic darling like Mary Lou Retton doing. "I got the zodiac sign for Scorpio on the back of my neck," she says. "I was underage, so I had to use my sister's ID, and she's a Pisces. Luckily, they didn't check it very carefully."