In this period Craig attended operas and concerts with his family. "We've always been musical," he says. "My mom plays piano, I play cello, Karen plays violin and Dad plays the radio." Russ Beardsley had no trouble obtaining Lincoln Center and Carnegie Hall tickets because his audio stores—"the sort of places where you'll spend $15,000 or $20,000 on a visit," he says—have a clientele that has included Ira Gershwin, Zubin Mehta and half the New York Philharmonic. (Not to mention Rodney Dangerfield and, through an agreement with the Topps baseball card people, major-leaguers like Reggie Jackson.) In fact, Russ's business dealings with United Nations delegates are what helped get his two children into the U.N. school. It didn't hurt, either, that Jeanne's father was a prominent educator and government official in China.
Craig developed a cultural and intellectual eclecticism that is still evident: In his room at Gainesville are hundreds of jazz, rock and classical record albums, and, right next to scores by Vivaldi, Brahms and Saint-Saëns, surfing magazines and dozens of science-fiction novels. In one breath he'll talk about the Soviet black market in Western jeans and clothing and in the next describe a Japanese wet T shirt contest.
The U.N. school had one drawback. It left the 10-year-old Beardsley with very few friends when his family moved from New York City to New Jersey and he and his sister commuted to school. "Craig was very, very introverted at that time," says his father. "We encouraged him to start swimming so that he'd mix with people his own age. As it turned out, swimming gave him a handle on life."
From the beginning Beardsley did well in the pool, winning the 8-to-10-year-old 50-yard butterfly event at the Bergen County age-group meet in his first year of competition. But his lungs would often fill with fluid during a workout and he would have difficulty breathing. "Craig was allergic to every tree in New Jersey," says his mother. Pools were scarce in the area and often as frigid as the Bering Strait, and the chlorine made Beardsley's jet-black hair turn frizzy and blond. Students at Old Tappan High, which he attended from 1974 to '78, accused him of using peroxide. "I knew white hair was genetically impossible," says Russ, turning to his wife. "I thought maybe someone had slipped into your household."
Russ was for some time the main force behind Craig's swimming. For several years he drove his son from a 5 a.m. swim workout at a pool in Ridgewood, N.J., to 8 a.m. classes at the U.N. school and then back to a 4 p.m. workout in New Jersey. "There were a few February mornings I could have lived without," the elder Beardsley says.
Only once did Russ play the pushy poolside parent, and that was when he made the 11-year-old Craig run 1½ miles every afternoon to supplement his swimming. "The neighborhood kids would ride alongside me on their bicycles yelling, 'Hurry, hurry,' " says Craig. "It was bizarre."
Swimming for the Dolphin Aquatic Club of Ridgewood, Beardsley attained a national age-group ranking in the 200 fly at 13, and by 1977, three years later, he was ninth in the U.S. and 13th in the world in the event. But then his performances leveled off. "He wasn't motivated to win, but only to keep from looking bad," says his father.
"I was down on swimming," says Craig. "I needed a totally fresh start." He got that start in the fall of 1978, when he joined Reese at Florida, passing up offers from Texas and Indiana. "I figured it would be a great change," Beardsley says. "Sun, beaches, surfing, red-necks, pickup trucks...."
During his freshman year Beardsley made what Reese calls his "big breakthrough," in a meet against Tennessee. "Craig had been sick for three days, and on the day of the meet he had a fever and was throwing up," says Reese. "But he wanted a go anyway. He ended up swimming the fastest [200-yard fly] time in a dual meet in the country. It was 1:47.2, which was unheard-of for a dual meet." Beardsley went on to win the 200 fly at the 1979 Pan Am Games and, at the August 1980 Olympic Trials in Irvine, Calif., he broke Bruner's world record. "It's funny," Craig says. "That and my second world record [last summer in Kiev] were the two easiest swims of my life." The Olympic Trials victory was especially rewarding because it gave Beardsley a chance to tour the People's Republic of China with the U.S. national team. "Mom had heard about the trip and written to all her relatives over there," says Beardsley. "I'd have been in trouble if I hadn't made it."
Beardsley was a celebrity among literally hundreds of Chinese relatives, whom his mother hasn't seen since 1948. Unfortunately, the only butterfly races swum in the Chinese meets were 100s, and Beardsley finished second in every one to teammate William Paulus, now the world-record holder at that distance. "It was embarrassing," says Beardsley. "They'd get to me in the pre-race introductions and talk on and on, for about five minutes, with the crowd cheering. Then I'd lose." What mortified Jeanne Beardsley were the photographs of her son with his hair down to his shoulders. "My relatives, oooh, what did they think?" she groans. She should be grateful they didn't see Craig in Canton, when the U.S. team held its own Gong Show. While four of his male teammates in punk outfits stood behind him singing the Kinks' song Lola ("...girls will be boys and boys will be girls..."), Beardsley acted out the lyrics, wearing heavy makeup, a wraparound skirt, a tissue-stuffed bikini bra and his hair in braids. "We won the show," he says.