Touch of a lifetime

2008 Olympics, 100 butterfly: Phelps captures seventh gold medal

Originally Published: December 14, 2009
Page 2

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Michael PhelpsAdam Pretty/Getty Images

With a final, frantic arm stroke to go in the 100-meter butterfly, Michael Phelps was beaten.

It was over. There was no time and no room left to catch smack-talking Serbian Milorad Cavic, who was about to become the Buster Douglas of Olympic swimming. Cavic was shockingly ahead as his arms stretched forward, toward the wall in Beijing, mere inches from derailing Phelps' quest for a record eight gold medals in the same Olympic Games.

All he had to do was touch the wall, and the upset of all upsets was his. Phelps, meanwhile, was caught in between strokes -- too far away to glide in, too close to get a full stroke in.

He had to chop the wall, in swim speak, and that's never ideal.

Except this time, when chopping the wall became the mark of a champion.

Somehow, Phelps whipped his arms through just fast enough. Somehow, Cavic's glide lasted just long enough. Somehow, the Water Cube scoreboard showed the "Can that possibly be right?" result:

Phelps: 50.58 seconds.

Cavic: 50.59.

Fitting that the greatest individual athletic feat of the decade should come down to the smallest unit of time measurement.

But as Phelps exulted in the pool over the seventh of his eight gold medals, chaos erupted in the stands. To the naked eye, there appeared to be no way Phelps had hit the wall first. The Serbian delegation was incensed and filed a protest on the spot.

The protests were denied, and underwater photos upheld what the touch pads declared: Cavic's fingertips were just beginning to graze the wall when Phelps' hands hit. That didn't stop Cavic -- who was raised in California and attended Cal -- from declaring that he was the true winner.

But the proof was in the hardware around the swimmers' necks. Phelps wore gold, Cavic wore silver.
--Pat Forde