When Amanda Beard started serious training as an 11-year old, no one could have imagined that this California girl, whose role model was the flamboyant bad boy of basketball, Dennis Rodman, would become America’s best female breaststroker at the tender age of 13. Training under coach Dave Salo at Novaquatics Swim Club, her progress was so meteoric that she skipped Junior Nationals, jumping directly from competing against 12-year olds to the Senior Nationals.
In 1995, Amanda stood a little over 5-feet tall and weighed 90 pounds dripping wet. So slender as to appear fragile, yet she was tough enough to win her first U.S. national title and qualify for the Pan Pacs, where she won silver and bronze medals.
When she made her Olympic debut in Atlanta in 1996, in the 100m breaststroke, Amanda did not disappoint. Swimming from lane five in the finals, Amanda went from next to last at the halfway mark to next to first, to finish just behind Hall of Famer, Penny Heyns, in American record time. Amanda would leave Atlanta with a second silver in the 200m breast and a gold medal for the 4x100 medley relay.
After the 1996 Atlanta Games, Amanda became a darling of the media. She had breakfast with Dennis Rodman and appeared on the Tonight Show with Jay Leno. Unfortunately, she also suffered from the post “Olympic blues.” To make matters worse, she was experiencing a four-inch growth spurt and its accompanying extra pounds. Amanda struggled to reach the same speeds that had once come so easily when she was shaped more like a torpedo.
In 1997, sportswriters started to wonder if she would ever do anything great in swimming again. Unfortunately, Beard would later say, it was the same negative loop she was playing in her own head, and she was drowning from the pressure of expectations. So, right after Nationals, Amanda decided to quit swimming permanently. Luckily, her sabbatical only lasted a few months. When she decided to return, she took a different approach: she would not put so much pressure on herself and, more importantly, she wouldn’t just concentrate on her signature events.
By 1999, Amanda had regained her spark. She was adjusting her technique to suit her new physique and was one of the nation’s most sought-after college recruits. Her choice was to swim for coach Frank Busch at the University of Arizona. When she joined the team in the fall of 1999, she was 5 feet, eight inches tall and weighed 120 pounds.
Amanda was considered an underdog to make her second Olympic team in 2000. At the Trials, she finished a disappointing eighth place in the 100m breast, but the 200 was her best event. She finished second to Megan Quann and had qualified for Sydney.
In Sydney, Amanda struggled, recording the eighth-fastest time in both the prelims and semifinals, which put her in lane eight for the final. After a pep talk from Coach Busch, and a painful burst of speed over the final 10 meters, she captured the bronze medal by .01 seconds.
It took almost three very difficult years for Amanda to adjust to her new body. When she finally did, she was almost unbeatable. In 2002, she won double gold at the Pan Pacs in Yokohama, Japan. In 2003, she won gold in the 200m breaststroke and silver in the 100m breaststroke at the FINA World Championships. At the 2004 U.S. Olympic Trials, she qualified for four events while breaking the world record in the 200m breaststroke.
In Athens, Amanda finally won her first individual gold medal when she won the 200m breaststroke in world record time. In the 200m individual medley, she won silver while setting a new American record. She also won a second silver medal in the 4x100 medley relay and finished fourth in the 100m breaststroke.
After Athens, she embarked on a mission to turn herself from Olympic Champion into a lucrative brand name. Her life out of the pool was not without its challenges, as she describes in her 2012 memoir In the Water, They Can’t See You Cry. Still, she had enough talent and toughness to train seriously for a few months and qualify for her fourth Olympic appearance in Beijing in 2008 at the age of 27. At the final team training session, Amanda was elected to serve as one of three co-captains of the women’s Olympic swimming team. Although she placed a disappointing 18th in her signature 200m breaststroke event, she provided a role model for younger members of the team.
In 2009, Amanda married her soulmate, Sacha Brown, who she credits for encouraging her to seek therapy. In September of that same year, Amanda gave birth to their first child, a son, Blaise Brown. After giving birth, she came out of retirement to swim in the 2010 Conoco Phillips National Championships. She had just hoped to be respectable, but finished second in the 200m breaststroke and qualified for the Pan Pacs, once again. This success led her to continue training for a chance to reach her fifth Olympic Games in 2012. After finishing fifth and failing to make the team, she retired again, and in 2013, she gave birth to a daughter, Doone Isla Brown.
In 2017, Beard opened the Beard Swim Co., a learn-to-swim company lead by Amanda out of Gig Harbor, Washington. Recognized for excellence by the International Swimming Hall of Fame, The Amanda Beard Swim School believes the ability to swim is one of the greatest gifts a parent can give to a child.