Most of that ink was on display in 2007 when Beard did a photo shoot for Playboy—something that annoyed USA Swimming once again. Executive Director Chuck Wielgus said that he thought the spread wasn't an "appropriate portrayal of our sport." But Beard disagrees. "Swimming only gets recognition once every four years, when the Olympics come around. For me to get swimming out there in any way that I can, even if it happens to be Playboy… I don't think it's such a bad thing." Even if she was surprised by the negative response, she wasn't bothered. "I get a crackup out of pissing other people off," she says, laughing. "I kind of got a kick out of it."
It's obvious Beard likes being in the spotlight almost as much as she likes swimming. After the Playboy spread, she continued doing television reporting gigs for shows like The Best Damn Sports Show Ever. She also became a spokeswoman for GoDaddy.com, did some promotional work for the charity WildAid, and picked up another tattoo. "It takes up the whole back of my calf. It's three big ol' snowflakes kind of falling down my leg. I got that done by Hannah on LA Ink."
Although she continued to train regularly, Beard was far from anyone's mind early this year when swimmers began gearing up for the 2008 Olympics. So it was a surprise to everyone when she switched coaches two months before the trials and declared that she was training to make the Olympic team. "I didn't feel like I had much to prove to anybody, but I wanted to swim purely for the fun and enjoyment," she says of the decision.
In early July, Beard swam in the Olympic trials and surprised everyone once again by making the team with a second-place finish in the 200-meter breaststroke. Later that month, her fellow swimmers elected her to be a team captain. "I was really proud they gave me the honor," she says. "But it wasn't easy. When you are captain, you kind of have to be the bitch. You have to make sure everyone's keeping in line. So it's kind of tough."
Beard tried to stay focused on her own swimming, but despite all her preparation, she didn't race well in Beijing. Her 200-meter breaststroke was more than 2 seconds slower than the time she posted in trials, and she didn't make it to the semifinals. "I was surprised to even be there. I felt like I prepared myself as best as possible, but I didn't have it in me at that time and that moment," she says of her race. "After my swim, I cried and was bummed out. But I had to put on a brave face because I had to be there to support the team and just enjoy watching the swimming."
So she sat in the stands, cheered on her teammates, and watched, just like the rest of us back home, as Phelps won his races. But, always the rebel, she managed to create a little controversy before she left Beijing. "In China, they really trip out on a girl walking around with a tattoo. So I would go outside with shorts on and people stop and stare at me," she says, laughing. "I just want to be who I am, and I'm not just your typical all-American swimmer-type of girl."