As 2021 Opens Its Eyes, A Renewed Call For Craig Beardsley to Receive Hall of Fame Honors

Craig Beardsley

In these early days of 2021, we renew our call for Craig Beardsley to receive induction into the International Swimming Hall of Fame. Upon the next vote by the ISHOF selection committee, it is hoped that Beardsley will get a long look and earn his rightful place among the greats in the history of the sport. And until that day arrives, arguments for this proper decision will continue.

His contemporaries received their due. Rowdy Gaines. Tracy Caulkins. Mary T. Meagher. Their inductions into the International Swimming Hall of Fame arrived at different points in the 1990s, celebrations of the vast success they enjoyed in the pool. Their enshrinements, too, hailed their perseverance, all having endured the United States boycott of the 1980 Olympic Games in Moscow to eventually claim gold at a home Olympiad in 1984.

Craig Beardsley was not as fortunate.

History views Beardsley as an American great in the 200 meter butterfly. He was preceded by Carl Robie, Mark Spitz and Mike Bruner. He was followed by Mel Stewart, Tom Malchow and Michael Phelps. But Beardsley is missing the Olympic gold medal they all possess, and by no fault of his own. He was a victim of circumstance and political turmoil.

At the height of his career, like many of his United States teammates, Beardsley was poised to capture gold in the 200 fly at the 1980 Games. He was the Pan American champion in 1979, earning him favorite status for Moscow. But when President Jimmy Carter announced the United States would boycott the Olympiad, Beardsley’s dream was crushed.

Craig Beardsley by Tim Morse - 4 (1)

Photo Courtesy: Tim Morse / Swimming World Archive

His nightmare only grew darker four years later, when in pursuit of redemption, Beardsley placed third in his prime event at the U.S. Olympic Trials. The finish locked him out of a trip to Los Angeles and led him into retirement. It was also the first year in which nations were limited to two athletes per event, rather than three.

“The lesson I learned from that was actually a very good life lesson,” Beardsley once said of his boycott ordeal. “Sometimes, you do everything in your power, you do everything you’re supposed to do, but sometimes things are just out of your control. You’ve got to learn to put that behind you, let it roll off your shoulders, and just move on.”

Even without an Olympic appearance and hardware, Beardsley constructed a career portfolio that can only be described as Hall of Fame-worthy.

  • Two world records (with his reign atop the event lasting for more than three years)
  • Gold medals at the 1979 and 1983 Pan American Games
  • A bronze medal at the 1982 World Championships

Perhaps most impressive is the fact that his first world record was an emphatic rebuttal to what unfolded—without his presence—at the 1980 Olympics. Just 10 days after the Soviet Union’s Sergey Fesenko won gold in a time of 1:59.76, Beardsley blasted that performance with a global standard of 1:58.21. The effort left no doubt who was the dominant man in the event.

When Hall of Fame balloting is conducted each year, the voting panel is provided with guidelines to consider, notably an athlete’s record in Olympic competition. However, a bullet point is also prominently featured, and asks voters to measure the career impact of events such as boycotts and World Wars.

Craig Beardsley

Craig Beardsley. Photo Courtesy: Swimming World Magazine.

During the past three voting cycles, Beardsley has been nominated, this past year finishing sixth in the balloting. Induction for 2020 went to Brendan Hansen, Michael Klim, Jon Sieben, Rebecca Soni and Daichi Suzuki, all deserving candidates. But so is Beardsley, whose exploits in the competitive ranks have also been complemented by his dedication to Swim Across America and its fundraising efforts for cancer research.

It’s been 40-plus years since President Carter triggered the United States boycott of the 1980 Olympic Games, a decision that rocked the careers of hundreds of American athletes. That move shouldn’t continue to prove damning.

It is time for Craig Beardsley to receive proper recognition for what he achieved in the sport, and not continue to penalize the man for what he could not control. So, put the sign on the lawn: Beardsley 2021. It needs to be his election year.


  1. avatar

    The fact that he hasn’t been inducted makes me really question who is voting. But then again it’s quite typical of the so-called “experts” and how they vote

  2. avatar
    Lou Manganiello

    Agreed! And, also one of the humble world record holders ever! It’s time!

  3. avatar
    Steve Wood

    Well deserved and way past due. His contributions and achievements in and out of the pool deserve this honor.

  4. avatar
    Kevin Shine

    Craig is a GREAT Olympian and very deserving of this honor. Most importantly, he is one of the kindest and most generous people I have ever met. Let’s make this happen !

  5. avatar
    Robert Coakley

    He broke Mike Bruner’s world record by over a second, 1:58:21 on July 30th 10 Days after Sergel Fesenko won Gold at the 1980 Olympics in 1:59:76
    Let me help you with the math 1:55 seconds faster, 3 seconds faster than the silver medalist Philip Hubble. Held the world record for over 3 years. It is time he receives long-overdue recognition. Make it right.

  6. avatar
    Dorene Carey

    A true champion, in and out of the pool, and well deserving of this honor – Hall of Fame for Craig!

  7. avatar
    Janel Jorgensen McArdle

    I couldn’t agree more! Craig’s accomplishments in the water speak for themselves, but who Craig is out of the water is unparalleled. There is no humbler Olympian there is no way to quantify what he has done for Swim Across America and for the cancer community over the last twenty years. I feel so lucky to count Craig as one of my dearest friends.

    Janel Jorgensen McArdle
    1988 Olympian / Former SAA CEO

  8. avatar
    Mike Ford

    Craig’s competitive accomplishments speak for themselves. What often goes unheard are the stories behind the swimmer. Craig was on board a boat which took a group of swimmers including me and my daughter a mile off shore in our first Swim Across America open water swim. We were nervous, but he was confident and encouraging. He saw us all safely into the water and then butterflied the mile into shore. He was an inspiration and my daughter and I are still “making waves to fight cancer” over twenty years later. We will always be grateful to him.
    Mike Ford, Captain

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