Craig Beardsley, 1980 Olympian, ‘Thankful’ U.S. Opting Only for Diplomatic Boycott of Beijing

Craig Beardsley by Tim Morse - 4 (1)
Photo Courtesy: Tim Morse / Swimming World Archive

Craig Beardsley, 1980 Olympian, ‘Thankful’ U.S. Opting for Diplomatic Boycott of Beijing

The White House on Monday announced a diplomatic boycott of the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing, news that was met with joy by Olympic swimmer Craig Beardsley.

Beardsley was one of the leaders of the 1980 Olympic swim team, which was denied the chance to compete at the Moscow Olympics when the United States boycotted. In hindsight, that action has been seen as using athletes as pawns in geopolitics, to little avail and to the massive detriment of their careers. Hence the praise from Beardsley of the move Monday, in which the United States said it will not have “diplomatic or official representation” at the Beijing Games in protest of China’s “egregious human rights abuses and atrocities in Xinjiang,” per White House Press secretary (and former swimmer) Jen Psaki.

“Thankfully it’s diplomatic and athletes [for now] will be left alone to still compete,” the 61-year-old Beardsley told ESPN. “If anything, at least the 1980 boycott served as reference and an example of what not to do. Unless the world falls apart, you won’t see a boycott; there’s just too much money at stake, unlike in ’80 when we were basically all amateurs.”

Beardsley was one of the swimmers most impacted by the 1980 Olympic boycott. That decision was made in the spring of 1980 in retaliation for the Soviet Union’s invasion of Afghanistan the previous December. The timing by the Jimmy Carter administration preserved the Lake Placid Winter Olympics on home soil, and it led to the USSR and Eastern bloc nations boycotting the 1984 Los Angeles Games.

Beardsley set the world record in the men’s 200 butterfly at the 1980 U.S. Olympic Trials, which would stand until 1983. His time in Irvine was more than a second faster than what Soviet swimmer Sergey Fesenko used to win gold in Moscow later that summer. Beardsley placed third in his signature event at Olympic Trials in 1984, missing out on a chance to compete in the Games.

“The lesson I learned from that was actually a very good life lesson,” Beardsley has said. “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.”

A total boycott of the Beijing Olympics would deprive winter athletes the chance to compete on the Olympic stage. For many of those athletes, like many swimmers, the Olympics is the pinnacle of a career and a once-in-a-lifetime athletic opportunity. Instead, athletes are free to compete, leaving a boycott of the games to be a personal decision. Psaki declined to say whether President Joe Biden had explored the possibility of a full athlete boycott.

The United States, instead, will not send any officials to bring attention or visibility to the Games. (In the past, President George W. Bush attended the 2008 Beijing Summer Olympics opening ceremonies, while First Lady Jill Biden traveled to Tokyo for last summer’s Games.) Biden and Chinese president Xi Jinping recently held a virtual summit where the Olympics apparently did not come up. A spokesman for the Chinese Foreign Ministry told the Associated Press that U.S. officials had not been invited and accused the Biden administration of grandstanding.

In varying degrees, between the Biden administration and Trump administration before it, the U.S. has sharply criticized China for its surveillance and persecution of the Muslim Uyghur population in the Xinjiang province, its crackdown on pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong and its military posture toward the island of Taiwan. The Uyghur situation was formally declared a genocide by the Trump administration. A standoff over the well-being of tennis star Peng Shuai, after she levied accusations of sexual assault against a former Communist official in China, has strained relations between China’s sporting establishment and the West further.

On Tuesday night, NBC2 News ran a piece in which anchor Peter Busch, formerly the host of Swimming World’s Morning Swim Show, conducted an interview with Beardsley.


  1. avatar
    Jim Smith

    We will NEVER forget

    • avatar

      Can we please just put him where he belongs / in ISHOF…!

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