The only thing more intriguing than watching Amanda Beard swim has been watching her grow up. In 1996, she was a made-for-NBC 14-year-old clutching her teddy bear on the Olympic medal stand. By her third Games, in 2004, Beard had, well, matured, posing for racy photo spreads in men's magazines and, for a time, even holding the dubious honor of world's most downloaded athlete. "People had the image of me with the teddy bearthis skinny, big-toothed little girland then all of a sudden I'm on the cover of a magazine wearing a bikini," she says. "But it was over eight years. To me, I was very slow growing up."
Q&A with Amanda Beard
Read Bryan Curtis's full interview with the Olympic medal winner.
Beard quasi-retired after Athens to travel on behalf of sponsors like Speedo and Red Bull. But earlier this year she traded in the bikinis for race suits to make a run at the 2008 Olympics.
What are her chances? Beard is no Anna Kournikova. She set a world record in the 200-meter breaststroke in 2003 and has won seven Olympic medals. And at 25, she's young enough for a fifth Games. "I still love it, and so far I've been pretty good at it," she says. "Hopefully, I won't break something, and maybe I'll be around for 2012."