Amanda Ray Beard was born on October 29, 1981, in Irvine, California, land of perpetual sun and crystalline blue pools. She grew up admiring her older sisters, Leah and Taryn, both of whom swam competitively at local clubs. To impress them, Amanda began jumping in the pool as early as four years of age. It has been a love affair with water ever since.
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Amanda eventually joined a swimming club herself, and her talents soon became evident. When she was still a child in middle school, her coaches could already tell that she was Olympic material. In 1995, she earned a U.S. National Title in the 100-meter breaststroke, was named a National A team member, and took second place in the Pan Pacific Championships for the 400-meter medley relay. She even tied for the Phillips Performance Award at the 1995 U.S. Open.
So it was with little hesitation that Amanda's coaches signed her up for the U.S. National Team that was gearing up for the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta. Once in the media spotlight, Amanda was the object of instant adoration; she was cast as America's newest sports hero, and the nation lapped her up.
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At the Games, Amanda didn't disappoint. She took the silver medal in both the 100-meter and 200-meter breaststrokes, and the gold for her contribution in the breaststroke leg of the 400-meter medley relay. In doing so, she became the second-youngest American gold medalist in swimming history (Pokey Watson still retains the top title from her 1964 win).
But as quickly as Amanda shot to the top, a glimmer-hungry populace set their eyes on other promising starlets, and the media let her drop. It would be easy to get discouraged by this. But Amanda, taking time to reflect on her swimming aspirations, decided she would swim for herself, not for the camera lens. She continued cleaning up in competitions, winning another two U.S. National Titles in 1997 for the 100-meter and 200-meter breaststrokes.
Amanda graduated from high school in 1999 and enrolled at the University of Arizona, where she flourished even more under a new swimming coach. She took the silver at the 1999 World University Games in the 100-meter breaststroke, and the following year won the silver in the 200-meter at the NCAA Championships. She would take the event's top medal in 2001.
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In spite of the accumulation of all these accolades, Amanda's performance at the 2000 Sydney Games was largely ignored. She took the bronze in the 200-meter breaststroke -- her fourth Olympic medal -- but this latest accomplishment didn't grab any headlines.
Nonetheless, the sporting world continued to view Amanda as a hero. When she took a year off school in 2001 to travel the world to swim professionally, clubs throughout the world invited her to lead clinics and give motivational speeches. She wasn't just a pretty swimmer. She was a smart, inspiring pretty swimmer.
As she grew older, Amanda continued to develop her form, until it was better than it had ever been. In 2002, she broke the American record in the 200-meter breaststroke at the Swimming World Cup, and bagged two gold medals in the Pan Pacific Championships. In 2003, she scored the highest honor of her still-burgeoning career. At the World Championships in Barcelona, she broke the world record in the 200-meter, becoming the No. 1 breaststroke swimmer throughout the world and history.
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If breaking the world record couldn't prepare Amanda for the 2004 Olympics, nothing would. She had also seized the media spotlight again. Leading up to the Games, she was no longer America's darling, but a foxy pin-up, a sex symbol of the hard-bodied athletic world. She appeared in FHM with other Olympic hotties; posters of her in swimming garb sold like hotcakes.
Suddenly, Amanda was the Internet's most downloaded female athlete, surpassing mega-babe Anna Kournikova. With her visibility at an all-time high, Amanda jacked it up even further, winning the gold in the 200-meter breaststroke at Athens.
Today, event organizers continue to battle to land cameo appearances from Amanda, which, to date, have ranged from opening the NASDAQ and a Dodgers game to appearing at a NASCAR race and on The Howard Stern Show.
Amanda, however, has not lost sight of what landed her in the public eye to begin with. She continues to swim five hours a day when she's not studying business at the University of Arizona or speaking in defense of endangered species.