Voice for the Sport: Beardsley for ISHOF Induction in 2021

Craig Beardsley

Voice for the Sport (Craig Beardsley)

The March issue of Swimming World Magazine features a Voice for the Sport column on Craig Beardsley, a great in the 200-meter butterfly who was one of the victims of the 1980 Olympic boycott, instituted by U.S. President Jimmy Carter. Because of the boycott, Beardsley had his Olympic dream stolen.

As the Coronavirus continues to make its way around the world, its impact has been felt in all aspects of life. As far as this summer’s Olympic Games are concerned, they have not yet been postponed. But there is a real possibility of that scenario unfolding, which would mean the short-circuiting of dreams for thousands of athletes, similar to what Beardsley experienced 40 years ago.

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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 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.

6 comments

  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
    db

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

  3. avatar
    Anonymous

    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
    PATRICIA SAINT AUBIN

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

  6. avatar
    Richard

    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.

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