Phelps edges Crocker at finish

Updated: August 20, 2004, 10:54 PM ET
Associated Press

ATHENS, Greece -- Mark Spitz, you've got company after all.

Michael Phelps matched Spitz's record of four individual gold medals in the Olympic pool with a stirring comeback in the 100-meter butterfly, nipping rival and teammate Ian Crocker at the wall Friday night.

In an Olympics that has become his personal showcase, Phelps pulled off what may have been his most amazing feat of all. He had every reason to be tired, racing for the 14th time in seven days. And he was taking on the world record-holder, the guy who beat him at both the world championships and the U.S. Olympic trials.

Midway through the race, it seemed as though Phelps had met his match. Crocker led his teammate by a half-body length, making the turn under world-record pace. Phelps was lagging in fifth, his quest for another gold in serious jeopardy.

But Phelps' huge wingspan began to dig furiously into the water, leaving behind a wake that resembled a washing machine cleaning a load of clothes. With 20 meters to go, he had pulled up on Crocker's shoulder. At the wall, both men lunged for the gold.

Phelps got it, beating Crocker by a minuscule four-hundredths of a second in an Olympic record of 51.25, with Andriy Serdinov of Ukraine taking the bronze in 51.36.

It was Phelps' fifth gold overall, to go along with two bronze medals.

Phelps can win an eighth medal on Saturday. However, he won't race -- he gave up his spot in the 400 IM relay to Crocker.

"He's a great champion," said International Olympic Committee president Jacques Rogge, who watched Phelps' victory from a front-row seat at the Aquatic Center. "Definitely, he is going to be one of the icons of the games."

Phelps and Crocker both spun around quickly to get a glimpse of the scoreboard. When Phelps saw the "1" beside his name, he threw his arms in the air and smiled -- the look of a man who has dominated the Olympics and, in every respect but one, fully lived up to the enormous expectations that were heaped upon him in the months leading up to the Athens Games.

The 19-year-old from Baltimore fell short of Spitz's record from the 1972 Munich Games: seven gold medals. But in a swimming world that is much more competitive than it was three decades ago, Phelps' performance could very well be more impressive than the one he was chasing.

"What he did was an amazing accomplishment," Phelps said of Spitz. "Just to be mentioned in the same sentence with him is unbelievable."

Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press