Memories of Moscow 1980: Craig Beardsley Belonged at the Games; He Belongs in the Hall of Fame, Too

Craig Beardsley

Memories of Moscow 1980, the 40th anniversary of the 22nd Olympic Games in Moscow, where Craig Beardsley should have been, along with hundreds of American teammates in a variety of sports. But the United States’ boycott of the Moscow Games robbed them of their chance at Olympic glory and, in Beardsley’s case, a deserving place in the International Swimming Hall of Fame. 

Swimming World continues its 40th anniversary coverage of the events of Moscow 1980 and their impact on those who missed out and what the Moscow Games meant for those who made it, even, in some cases, when their Governments did not endorse their participation but their nations did.


Our Moscow 1980 Olympics coverage so far


Moscow 1

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.

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.

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 years since President Carter triggered the United States boycott of the 1980 Olympics 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
    Debbie Dawson

    I agree and Craig has continued to support the sport of swimming throughout his life with continued efforts for Swim Across America, Inc.

  2. avatar

    A well deserved induction for his talent in the pool and his dedicated efforts for cancer research out of the pool!

  3. avatar

    He definitely deserves an induction . He is a very talented athlete as well as an inspiring person.

  4. avatar
    Kathleen Anderson

    Long, Long overdue for all of his swimming accomplishments and continued voice for the sport through Swim Across America. ??

  5. avatar

    Craig is a superior swimmer and person. It’s got to happen for him! So deserving.

  6. avatar

    Craig’s influence on people, positive attitude, and being down to earth make him a perfect Swimming Ambassador. I met him in a SAA event in Richmond, October 2018, where he guarded me as I swam a warm up in the river course. He kept asking me questions about my swimming journey and was so engaging. I did not know of his swimming history. Then he continued guarding other swimmers, doing whatever was needed at the cancer research fund raising event. The next year we stopped, talked and caught up on the year’s swimming, at SAA’s August 2019 Glen Cove, Long Island fund raiser. There he was also doing whatever was needed with a huge smile, to conduct another successful SAA event.

  7. avatar
    Wiilliam G. Nelson, MD, PhD

    Craig Beardsely is emblematic of the best that competitive swimming has to offer- both in and out of the pool. A dedicated ambassador of the sport, he has promoted swimming through Swim Across America to people everywhere. The International Swimming Hall of Fame will be enriched by his induction, reflecting the experience of all fortunate enough to have met him,

  8. avatar
    Rich Hauptschein

    I’ve known Craig for over 45 years. Teammate and friend. His athletic accomplishments speak for themselves. His character is what distinguishes him from the others. I can not think of anyone more deserving of induction into the International swimming hall of fame.

  9. Jose Vassallo

    All 1980 Olympic swim team members should be inducted to the Hall with huge apology from Carter.

  10. avatar

    Craig was my inspiration! I dared to swim 200 fly because of him.