With seven Olympic medals to her name, Amanda Beard is the most decorated Olympian ever to come out of the University of Arizona. She swam for the Wildcats from 1999- 2001 under legendary coach Frank Busch, winning an individual NCAA title and collecting 10 All-American honors. Now, she is back on the pool deck at Hillenbrand Aquatic Center as an assistant coach alongside Frank’s son, head coach Augie Busch.
Sarah Kezele ’11 spoke with Beard ahead of her first season on staff.
Arizona fans have been so excited to see you come back to the program. How have you felt about the reaction to your return?
It’s been overwhelming in the most wonderful way possible. We were gone for about 9 1/2 years, and I think I only came back once in that timeframe. I feel like I’m home again, and it’s just a wonderful feeling. I’m like, “Why did I ever leave?” I’m very humbled by the opportunity and just extremely grateful.
Why did you want to join Arizona’s staff?
I have so much respect for Augie Busch. I’ve known him for about 25 years, and just listening to him talk about his athletes and the passion that he has for the program, that’s how I feel. Some of the best years of my life were in this environment, this community. And I thought about how much I could learn from standing on a pool deck with him and being a sponge, absorbing as much as I possibly can to be the best assistant coach for this program.
You’ve medaled multiple times at the Olympics and World Championships, you’ve held world records and you’ve been inducted into the International Swimming Hall of Fame. Of all your accomplishments, what are you most proud of?
There are two moments in my Olympic swimming career that really stand out to me. One is winning bronze at the 2000 Olympics. I was struggling at that part of my athletic career. I almost had written off ever competing in the Olympics again (after winning gold and two silvers at the 1996 Olympics), because I just wasn’t performing the same way in the water. But I came to Arizona and got that fire back in me, and I started to slowly climb up that ladder again. So, by the time 2000 rolled around, I ended up making that Olympic team and winning a bronze medal. I never imagined being able to climb back up to that point physically and mentally.
And then, my gold medal in 2004. Standing on top of a podium and celebrating your country, it’s hard to beat those moments.
When you think back on your time in Tucson and what you learned from Frank Busch, are there any moments or lessons that stand out to you most?
Oh, yeah. We’d go for runs or have to run the football stadium, and you’d want to be mad, like, “This is the worst.” And then you’d see Frank running with you. I was 18 and he was, like, 50 years old, and I’m thinking, “OK, I can’t complain.” He was one of those people that, when he talked, you really wanted to listen. He would have conversations with us that had nothing to do with swimming, but about us as individuals and as people. I think that’s very important, because a lot of athletes don’t know how to identify with anything aside from being an athlete. He’d have conversations where I was just Amanda, not Amanda the swimmer. It made me feel more valued as a whole human. There are now multiple assistants on this staff that are from the Frank Busch era.
What are some of the traits or principles that you recognize in people who came up under him?
Lots of discipline. I think back to those freezing early mornings, and he’d give me certain times that he wanted me to do on my next set — and I’d look at him like he was crazy, but he was dead serious, and then he’d just walk away. But then, I could do it. It’s one of those things where he knew what we were capable of and how to get us there, even if it seemed absolutely ridiculous to us. Without having to demand it, he just had this respect across the pool deck.