Craig Beardsley (USA)
Honor Swimmer (2022)
FOR THE RECORD: 1980 OLYMPIC GAMES: MEMBER OF THE BOYCOTT TEAM; 1982 WORLD CHAMPIONSHIPS (LC): BRONZE (200M BUTTERFLY); 1979 PAN AMERICAN GAMES: GOLD (200M BUTTERFLY); 1983 PAN AMERICAN GAMES: GOLD (200M BUTTERFLY); 2 WORLD RECORDS: 200M BUTTERFLY (1980, 1981)
As a youngster with burgeoning dreams, Craig Beardsley drew inspiration from what he saw on television from the 1972 and 1976 Olympic Games. Athletes such as Mark Spitz, Jim Montgomery and Mike Bruner were headliners for Team USA. One day, Beardsley would be an Olympian, too, racing alongside the best the world had to offer, in pursuit of his sport’s ultimate reward: An Olympic gold medal.
Growing up, Beardsley didn’t have the typical team experience known by many swimmers. The schools he attended, including the prestigious United Nations International School in New York, did not field teams. Upon his family moving to New Jersey, Beardsley began training with the Dolphin Aquatic Club in Ridgewood and his star started to soar. His talent was clear when he won the 8-to-10-year-old title in the 50-yard butterfly at the Bergen County Championships.
By 13, Craig was nationally ranked in his age group in the 200 butterfly, the event which would define his career. There was little doubt that grand days awaited, and his bright future was further developed when Beardsley opted to compete collegiately for coach Randy Reese at the University of Florida.
Beardsley captured a pair of NCAA championships in the 200 butterfly while at Florida and continued to elevate his status to one of the premier performers in the world in his prime event. At the 1979 Pan American Games in San Juan, Puerto Rico, Beardsley captured the gold medal in the 200 fly, winning the event by nearly two seconds. The performance was supposed to set the stage for the 1980 Olympic Games in Moscow, where Beardsley would be a gold medal favorite.
Sadly, that opportunity was short-circuited by politics. The United States boycotted the 1980 Olympic Games following the Soviet Union’s invasion of Afghanistan in late 1979. Years of hard work and dedication went unfulfilled, with Beardsley – and his compatriots – having no control of the situation.
At the 1980 Olympics, the Soviet Union’s Sergey Fesenko won gold in the 200 butterfly in a time of 1:59.76. A little more than a week later, while racing at U.S. Nationals, Beardsley obliterated that time with the first world record of his career, an eye-opening mark of 1:58.21 that sliced more than a second off the previous global standard, set at the 1976 Olympics by American Mike Bruner. The performance from Beardsley was a statement of his excellence, and that an Olympic gold should have been his.
While not all boycott-affected American athletes continued on with their careers, Beardsley forged ahead. In 1981, during a dual meet between the United States and the Soviet Union in Kiev, Beardsley lowered his world record in the 200 fly to 1:58.01. That record lasted a little more than two years and, combined with his initial world record, meant Beardsley had the fastest time in the history of the 200 fly for three years.
At the 1982 World Championships, Beardsley was the bronze medalist in his signature event and he followed in 1983 with another gold in the 200 fly at the Pan American Games. Heading into the 1984 Olympic Trials, Beardsley received his chance to compete at the Los Angeles Games. But a third-place finish in the 200 butterfly left him shy of that goal. Shortly after the 1984 Trials, Beardsley retired.
Craig has been involved with Swim Across America since its founding in 1987, serving in multiple roles while helping to raise money in the fight against cancer.