BEIJING -- His Olympics looking lost, Michael Phelps decided
to flap those gangly arms one more time.
Milorad Cavic, inches from spoiling it all, glided along just
under the surface, convinced he had won gold.
But it didn't matter who was fastest. Just first.
Phelps swam into history with a magnificent finish Saturday,
tying Mark Spitz with his seventh gold medal by the narrowest of
margins in the 100-meter butterfly.
One-hundredth of a second, the time it takes lightning to strike
"Dream as big as you can dream and anything is possible,"
Phelps said. "I am sort of in a dream world. Sometimes I have to
pinch myself to make sure it is real."
Call it the Great Haul of China -- and it's not done yet. Phelps
has one more race on Sunday, which will likely complete his
coronation as the greatest Olympian ever.
Spitz already ceded the title.
"It goes to show you that not only is this guy the greatest
swimmer of all time and the greatest Olympian of all time, he's
maybe the greatest athlete of all time," said the icon of the 1972
Munich Games. "He's the greatest racer who ever walked the
The finish was so close the Serbian delegation filed a protest
and swimming's governing body had to review the tape down to the
10-thousandth of a second.
Phelps thought he lost -- until he saw the "1" beside his name
on the scoreboard.
"When I did chop the last stroke, I thought that had cost me
the race," he said. "But it was actually the opposite. If I had
glided, I would have been way too long. I took short, faster
strokes to try to get my hand on the wall. I ended up making the
Phelps' time was 50.58 seconds, the only time in these Olympics
that he won an event without breaking the world record.
Not to worry. The 23-year-old from Baltimore has now pulled even
with the greatest of Olympic records.
"One word: epic," Spitz told The Associated Press from
Detroit. "I'm so proud of what he's been able to do. I did what I
did and it was in my day in those set of circumstances. For 36
years it stood as a benchmark. I'm just pleased that somebody was
inspired by what I had done. He's entitled to every second of
what's occurring to him now.
"I feel a tremendous load off my back."
Phelps will return on Sunday to swim in his final event of these
games, taking the butterfly leg of the 400 medley relay. The
Americans will be heavily favored to give him his eighth gold,
leaving Spitz behind.
Phelps slapped his hands on the water and let out a scream after
the astonishing finish. The crowd at the Water Cube gasped - it
looked as though Cavic had won -- then roared when the "1" popped
up beside the American's name.
Cavic's time was 50.59.
The Serbian delegation filed a protest, but conceded that Phelps
won after reviewing the tape provided by FINA, swimming's governing
body. USA Swimming spokeswoman Jamie Olsen said the tape was slowed
to one frame every 10-thousandth of a second to make sure Phelps
actually touched first.
It was impossible to tell on regular-speed replays.
"We filed the protest but it is already over," said Branislav
Jevtic, Serbia's chief of mission for all sports. "They examined
the video and I think the case is closed. The video says [Phelps]
"In my opinion, it's not right, but we must follow the rules.
Everybody saw what happened."
FINA referee Ben Ekumbo of Kenya said there was no doubt who won
after a review of the super-slow replay.
"It was very clear that the Serbian swimmer touched second
after Michael Phelps," he said. "One was stroking and one was
Cavic still wasn't sure he actually lost, but said he would
accept FINA's ruling.
"I'm stoked with what happened," Cavic said. "I don't want to
fight this. People will be bringing this up for years and saying
you won that race. If we got to do this again, I would win it."
Cavic watched the replay himself.
"It's kind of hard to see," he said. "I know I had a long
finish and Michael Phelps had a short finish."
A notoriously slow starter -- Phelps was seventh out of eight at
the turn - he really turned it on with the return lap, his long
arms gobbling up huge chunks of water as he closed the gap on Cavic
and fellow American Ian Crocker, the world record-holder.
As they approached the finish, with Phelps' head in line with
Cavic's shoulder, the Serb took his final big stroke and glided
underwater toward the gold. Phelps, his timing a bit off but fully
aware of where he was, did another mini-stroke, propelling his
upper body out of the water, swooping his arms in a huge circular
motion and slamming the wall with his hands on the follow-through.
Phelps watched the replay on the video board, then saw it again
in the massage area.
"I saw it slow down frame by frame," he said. "It's almost
too close to see."
It was reminiscent of the 100 fly finish at Athens four years
ago, where Crocker appeared to have the race won but Phelps got him
at the wall by 0.04.
"I thought four one-hundredths was close and I was shocked
then," Phelps said. "I'm even more shocked now than I was then.
One-hundredth is the smallest margin of victory in our sport. I
guess it's pretty cool."
Makes that 400 free relay, in which Jason Lezak chased down
France's Alain Bernard to win by eight-hundredths of a second, look
like a blowout.
"My last two Olympics I've been able to nail my finishes, and
it's been by four one-hundredths and one one-hundredths," Phelps
said. "I'm happy and kind of at a loss for words."
As if Phelps needed any extra motivation, his coach, Bob Bowman,
took note of Cavic's reported comments a day earlier that it would
be best for the sport if the American lost.
On their way to breakfast, Bowman brought it up.
"I wasn't going to at first, then I was saying to myself, 'This
race is going to be very tight and I'm going to use everything I
got,' so I put it out there," Bowman said, chuckling. "Maybe it
was worth a hundredth."
"It fires me up more than anything," Phelps said. "I always
welcome comments. It definitely motivates me even more."
Cavic didn't leave anything to chance, either. Right before the
race, coach Mike Bottom shaved a few stray hairs off the back of
his swimmer's neck, looking for any edge he could get.
The 24-year-old Serb endeared himself to his homeland in March
when he was suspended from the European championships for wearing a
T-shirt proclaiming "Kosovo is Serbia" -- a reference to Kosovo's
disputed declaration of independence.
After returning home, Cavic was greeted by hundreds of fans and
met with Serbian nationalist Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica, who
called the swimmer a "hero."
Cavic knew where Phelps was all along.
"There was no need to look over," he said. "I saw his shadow
in the corner of my goggles."
Phelps collected a $1 million bonus that Speedo, one of his
sponsors, first offered four years ago if he could tie or break
Spitz's record. Phelps failed to cash in at the Athens Games, where
he won six golds and two bronzes, but he got it on his second try.
What's left? Already the winningest Olympian ever with 13 golds
and most likely a 14th before he leaves Beijing, Phelps will have
another thing to shoot for at the 2012 London Games. Soviet gymnast
Larissa Latynina captured a record 18 medals in her career: nine
golds, five silvers and four bronzes.
"My big goal is to change the sport of swimming," Phelps said.
"I am sure Bob and I can think of some more goals in the next four
Phelps set world records in his first six events, some of them
by ridiculously large margins. He merely settled for a personal
best and Olympic record in the 100 fly, which will at least give
Spitz's supporters some reason to gloat: all seven of his wins in
Munich were with world records.
But, like Spitz, Phelps is 7-for-7 with a chance for one more.
Or maybe that should be 6.99-for-7.
Andrew Lauterstein of Australia won the bronze medal in 51.12.
Expected to be Phelps' main challenger, Crocker was again denied
the first individual gold of his career. He didn't even win a
medal, finishing fourth by a hundredth of a second in 51.13.
"It was a tight one," Crocker said. "I saw my short
differential between getting a medal or not, but then I realized
Michael's was pretty close, too. I'm really glad that he came out
"It was everything that an Olympic final should be. It doesn't
matter who's in the heats, you just got to get out and race and
it's anybody's game. It was one of the more intense races that I've
been in, which makes it a great way to end the meet."
While the medley relay figures to be nothing more than a
coronation, Phelps isn't ready to talk about No. 8.
"It's not over yet," he said. "I really think the Australian
team looks great for the relay. It's going to be a race."
Lauterstein was just thrilled to be part of history.
"It was an amazing final," he said. "Every time you race
Phelps, you'll have a great race and a great time. Just hearing his
arms slap on the block gets your heart racing, he's amazing."
Those arms sure came in handy Saturday.