Amanda Beard Is Now the World’s Most Popular Female Athlete

By Phillip Whitten

PHOENIX, September 2. FORGET the skinny, naive, cute little 14 year-old, clutching her teddy bear and collecting a gold and two silver medals at the Atlanta Games in 1996.

Amanda Beard has grown up.

And the world is taking notice.

Seemingly washed up at 16 and 17, 18 year-old Amanda launched a successful "comeback" in 2000, just making the US Olympic Team, then earning a surprise bronze medal in the 200 breast in Sydney, one-hundredth of a second ahead of China's Qi Hui.

But that was for starters. By 2002, Amanda was the world's most consistent — and consistently fast — female swimmer, winning just about everything in sight over the next two years.

At the US Olympic Trials, she made the team in both breaststroke events and in her "new" event, the 200 IM. To make it even sweeter, she recaptured her world record in the 200 breast that Australia's Leisel Jones had broken three days earlier.

She kept rolling in Athens with a gold and two silver medals: in the 200 breast she came from behind on the final lap to nip Jones in Olympic record time; she broke Summer Sanders' 12 year-old American record in finishing just behind Ukraine's Yana Klochkova in the 200 IM; and she out-split Jones in the breaststroke leg of the medley relay, as the US finished second to the Aussies.

Then she exploded, rocketing from swimming stardom to athletic super-stardom.

By the time the Closing Ceremonies were held in the Athens Olympic Stadium, Amanda had surpassed Anna Kournikova and Franzi Van Almsick as the world's most downloaded female athlete on Google, MSN, Yahoo and Lycos.

Her social and media calendars have exploded as well. Here's just a sample of where you can find Amanda in the next two weeks or so:

Sunday, Sept. 5:
At the NASCAR race in Fontana, Calif., where she'll be in the pit with Dale Earnhardt, Jr., and on-camera with NBC during the race.

Tuesday, Sept. 7:
She will be outfitted by fashion designer Luca Luca; At the US Open tennis tournament with Andy Roddick.

Wednesday, Sept. 8
: Opens the NASDAQ at the start of trading; Speedo appearance; NBC's Carson Daly Show; VIP at MTV's "Fashion Rock."

Thursday, Sept. 9:
On the Howard Stern Show; appears on "The View" with Barbara Walters; hosts Red Bull's invitation-only party in her honor.

Friday, Sept. 10:
On the Regis Philbin and Kelly Rippa show

Sunday, Sept. 12:
On-camera correspondent for 'Access Hollywood.'

Monday, Sept. 13:
Throws out first pitch at Dodgers' baseball game.

Tuesday, Sept. 14:
Appears on "The Best Damn Sports Show"; appears on "The Dennis Miller Show."