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
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