Swimming World Presents “A Voice For The Sport: Craig Beardsley 2021”

Craig Beardsley

A Voice For The Sport: Craig Beardsley 2021

By John Lohn

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.

“The lesson I learned from that was actually a very good life lesson,” Beardsley 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 fund-raising 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. v

John Lohn
Associate Editor-in-Chief
Swimming World Magazine

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17 comments

  1. Jill Roddin Roethke

    Craig is so well deserving of this honor for what he did in the pool and what he continues to do today out of the pool with Swim Across America – everyone should send his name in!

  2. Bob McKeon

    I would say that craig won his own gold medal – although the trappings and accolades are nice – he still beat his toughest competition- himself to accomplish his times and gain the respect of those around him – his name alone brings out the hall of fame admiration- with or without a plaque in Fort Lauderdale

  3. avatar
    Ken

    I think Craig was the first to break 2:00 in 200 fly? 1980 was a train wreck, thank you Jimmy Carter, now that the US is finally getting out of Afghanistan 40 years later.

    By not attending in 1980, the IOC voted a Max of 2 swimmers per country. We can count the dozens of swimmers that finished third at trials that didn’t get to go. Like Craig. This was a temporary slap at Russia that is lasting forever.

    Still 3 for Track and 3 for Ice Racing. Just not swimming so the US can’t SWEEP!

    • avatar
      Craig Lord - Swimming World Editor-in-Chief

      Ken, Craig was 3rd to hold the WR inside 2mins… Roger Pytell (GDR) first under on way to Montreal 1976 then Mike Bruner (USA) at Montreal for gold at the helm of the USA sweep.

  4. Sebastian Moll

    Well deserved. I was a fan, when I saw him in the 1978 world championships in Berlin and I was a 13 old West German swimmer.

  5. avatar
    JKV

    Definitely deserves to be in the H of F….an ambassador of the sport and an absolutely tremendous person.

  6. avatar
    Kurt W

    Craig is not only deserving of the hall, he has continued to contribute to the sport over the years. I would also argue that Matt Gribble, is also deserving of consideration to the hall. WR 100 Fly, world champ, Pan Am champ, WR Med Relay. Multi time NCAA champ. Also affected by 80 boycott.

  7. Cj Moser-Flatley

    Remember him so well!! I want a yard sign! 😊

  8. Serge Score

    For sure. Let’s not “Double rob” him.

  9. David Sims

    Craig absolutely deserves this. For anyone voting next year, just re-write his list of accomplishments and then add Olympic Gold Medalist and see how it compares to the other nominees.

  10. avatar
    Jeff Stiling

    Craig is very deserving of HOF induction. I fondly remember the days Craig and I sparred in the 200 fly in the mid-70’s. He just got better and better, and was always humble in victory (I know I was humbled in defeat). I sure hope Craig is granted this honor that he has very much earned.

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