Beard calls Playboy appearance 'a business decision'

LOS ANGELES -- The last time the world looked at Amanda
Beard she was winning her first individual Olympic gold medal at
the Athens Games.

There's a lot more of the 25-year-old swimmer on view in the
July issue of Playboy, where a topless Beard is on the cover billed
as "the world's sexiest athlete nude."

Inside, she takes off her clothes in eight pictures certain to
create a stir among rivals and young girls who consider her a role

Beard is unapologetic about what she calls her latest "outside
adventure." After all, she's modeled in men's magazines before,
notably a spread in FHM that left little to the imagination.

"This is a once in a lifetime opportunity and I really felt
excited and motivated to do it," she told The Associated Press on
Thursday, sipping coffee in the sunny backyard of her Venice home.

"I'm kind of used to people not necessarily agreeing with
everything that I do and that's totally fine. This doesn't change
my personality or who I am. It's just a business decision, a career

Beard, who previously dated NASCAR driver Carl Edwards, posed in
the prime of her career. She's aiming to qualify for her fourth
Olympics next year in Beijing, and is the Olympic champion and
former world-record holder in the 200-meter breaststroke.

It may be months before Beard is competing in meets and can
gauge the reaction of her fellow swimmers to her magazine spread.
She won't begin serious training for the Olympics until later this
year, when she plans to give up riding motorcycles, snowboarding
and vacations.

I told my dad that I'd take like black tape and kind of mark out certain things, so he doesn't feel awkward looking at it. He's like, 'Could ya?'

Amanda Beard

"It would only feel awkward if they make comments to me about
it," she said. "We'll see how that one goes."

Beard first came to attention at the 1996 Games, where as a
scrawny 14-year-old she toted her teddy bear to the starting blocks
and won two silver medals. She medaled at the 2000 Games, too.

"There's a lot of debate about whether it demeans women and
female athletes," said Dave Salo, Beard's coach at Trojan Swim
Club. "If nothing else, it celebrates the athleticism and takes
away from the model-type women."

Beard is aware of the criticism she could get from the mothers
of young swimmers and girls. But she points out those are some of
the same people who had her autograph FHM when she was in that

"I've had so many women approach me and say, 'We love seeing a
good, healthy body being portrayed as beauty,"' she said. "I'm
healthy. I work out like crazy. I'm not one of those people that's
partying wee into the hours. This, I think, is a better role model
than most."

Within her own family, Beard was surprised at the reaction.

"My grandma was like, 'Oh, she doesn't need to do that, but
it's her choice,"' she said, adding that her divorced parents
backed her, too.

"I told my dad that I'd take like black tape and kind of mark
out certain things, so he doesn't feel awkward looking at it. He's
like, 'Could ya?' "

Beard said her agent, Evan Morgenstein, had previously turned
down Playboy because she wasn't ready. He points out that "she is
not the victim."

Beard said she was swayed this time because the magazine allowed
her to select the photographer (a woman), the photos that were used
and the settings. Morgenstein declined to comment on how much Beard
was paid.

"The thing I respect most about her is she's always been
willing to take the risk and let the chips fall where they may,"
he said. "She's more of a role model today because she's willing
to stand up and take the heat."

Beard is trying to position herself for a career away from the
pool, and she sees the magazine spread as a way to attract
nonswimming fans.

She envisions developing her own business empire, similar to
former Sports Illustrated swimsuit model Kathy Ireland's line of
apparel and home furnishings.

She and Morgenstein have hired a licensing agency to help
develop products, like fragrances, apparel and home products to be
part of a signature Amanda Beard collection. She's also sorting
through TV hosting offers and a movie script.

"You have to remember, I'm still just a swimmer," she said.
"I am living a great lifestyle and I'm making good money, but I'm
not a basketball player. These deals are not $40 million deals."