Michael Phelps: To a naked eye, Milorad Cavic won — 10th anniversary of Beijing butterfly

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So many onlookers thought Milorad Cavic beat Michael Phelps in the Beijing Olympic 100m butterfly. Even Phelps himself.

“To a naked eye, he won the race,” Phelps said in an Omega documentary first published in 2016.

The 10th anniversary of that final — which Phelps won by .01 on a come-from-behind, half-stroke finish — is Wednesday night in the U.S./Thursday morning in China.

It marked Phelps’ seventh gold medal of those Games en route to his final tally of eight, breaking Mark Spitz‘s record for golds at a single Games. But it wasn’t without a little controversy.

Years later, Cavic jabbed again about the results that his Serbian federation unsuccessfully protested in Beijing.

“I don’t necessarily feel like it was an injustice,” the Serbian said in the 2016 film. “Mistakes were made on my side. There were things that I could have done better which would have made it a definite victory for myself, but my gut instinct is that I won.”

Cavic was arguably the favorite on the morning of the final. He broke the Olympic record in the preliminary heats, then was again faster than Phelps in the semifinals, when Phelps was coming off a 200m individual medley final.

After the semifinal, Phelps remembered walking down a Water Cube back hallway with coach Bob Bowman after the 15th of 17 total races.

“I said, ‘I’m done. I don’t have any more energy left. I’m cashed,'” Phelps said. “To put it bluntly, [Bowman] said tough s—. You’ve got a couple races to go, and you can suck it up.”

But Phelps was fired up by Cavic’s comments before the race, that it would be good for the sport if Phelps lost in Beijing. He woke up that morning and was on the starting block in lane five, right next to Cavic looking at him in lane four.

“What does a man do when the devil smiles at him? You smile back,” Cavic said. “It was a religious moment for me because I knew I was destined for this day.”

The race went out as expected, with Cavic leading at 50 meters and Phelps in seventh at the turn.

“I watched the NBC coverage of it, and [analyst] Rowdy [Gaines] was pretty much saying that I’m fighting for a silver medal,” Phelps said. “I knew [Cavic] always struggles the last 15 meters. That’s kind of my chance.”

In the last strokes, Phelps felt Cavic’s splash more and more into his own face. He was inching closer and closer. Then that last stroke. Cavic came up a bit short and glided into the wall. Phelps was even shorter, so he took one more partial stroke, slamming his fingers into the wall.

“If I were to take another full stroke, my arms would actually be at the halfway point of my stroke, with my face hitting the wall,” Cavic said. “He knew that he was behind me, and he knew that if he also had a long finish as I did, he would have lost. So his only option was to take another stroke but make it a half-stroke. It’s not textbook. It’s not something any coach ever wants to you to do.”

Phelps said that when he took the last half-stroke rather than a perfect finish, he thought that had cost him the gold. Each man turned around and stared at the scoreboard.

“The lack of oxygen in your body and in your head, it makes things very, very blurry for your eyes,” Cavic said. “It takes a couple of moments just for everything to clear up.”

“I looked back, and I saw one one-hundredth,” Phelps said, “and I was like, holy s—, that just happened.”

As for the Serbian protest and Cavic’s doubts?

“Well, the results don’t lie,” Phelps said. “That’s all I got to say. … Seeing the [Sports Illustrated] frame-by-frame and watching it in slow-mo, there’s no question in my mind that I won the race.”

That silver was Cavic’s one and only Olympic medal in four Games.

“I will be remembered,” he said. “It was the best and worst thing that happened to me.”

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Bryan brothers to retire at 2020 U.S. Open, don’t plan on Olympics

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Bob and Mike Bryan said they will retire after the 2020 U.S. Open, ending a tennis career that’s included a men’s record 16 Grand Slam doubles titles together.

They also don’t plan to play at the Tokyo Olympics, their manager later said in an email.

The twins are 41 years old, having spent more than half their lives as professionals.

“A part of us, feels like, is dying,” Bob Bryan said on Tennis Channel. “But we’re really clear about this decision. It’s going to be great to have a finish line.”

Mike said that in 2020 they will play all the events they “really love,” including all four Grand Slams and American tournaments. The Olympics weren’t mentioned.

Rather, they will see how they’re feeling midway through the year, they said on the Tennis.com podcast.

The Bryans earned doubles gold at the 2012 London Games but withdrew from the Rio Olympics six days before the Opening Ceremony. They cited making their family’s health a “top priority” and later said Zika virus concerns were “a very small part of” the decision.

The Bryans own 118 titles overall but nearly ended their partnership after Bob underwent hip surgery a year ago. He rejoined Mike this season, reaching the Australian Open quarterfinals and winning two ATP doubles titles.

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A century later, Naomi Osaka, Kei Nishikori can bring Japan Olympic tennis to forefront

Naomi Osaka, Kei Nishikori
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When Naomi Osaka and Kei Nishikori take the courts at the Tokyo Olympics, perhaps together, they will be doing so 100 years after tennis players won Japan’s first Olympic medals in any sport.

Tennis is not usually one of the handful of marquee competitions at the Games, in part because it is one of the sports whose biggest event is not the Games themselves.

“We have been playing for these Grand Slams, and I think that’s why we train for,” Nishikori said at the U.S. Open in August, when asked to compare the meaning of winning one of tennis’ four annual majors to earning a medal at a home Olympics. “That’s going to be the biggest goal to winning Grand Slams.”

Yet the term “Grand Slam” had not been conceived — for golf or tennis — at the time of the 1920 Antwerp Games. There, Ichiya Kumagae earned silvers in singles and doubles with Seiichiro Kashio to become the first Japanese Olympic medalists.

Kumagae was Japan’s first notable international tennis player, reaching the 1918 U.S. Open semifinals (then called the U.S. National Championships) and beating Bill Tilden in the final of the 1919 Great Lakes Championships.

Kumagae, born in 1890, had not seen a tennis racket or ball until his 20s, according to Roger W. Ohnsorg‘s “The First Forty Years of American Tennis.”

“He came here to America in 1916, the possessor of a wonderful forehand drive and nothing else,” Tilden wrote in “The Art of Lawn Tennis.” Kumagae was listed by Ohnsorg as 5 feet, 3 inches, 134 pounds and requiring glasses at all times. Later in 1922, Kumagae’s engagement to the daughter of a wealthy politician was published as a news brief in The New York Times.

Nearly a century later, Nishikori and Osaka brought more Japanese tennis breakthroughs. Nishikori became the first Asian man to reach a Grand Slam singles final at the 2014 U.S. Open. Last year, Osaka became the first Japanese singles player to win a Grand Slam, also at the U.S. Open.

This past June, Japan’s annual Central Research sports survey (1,227 people, age 20+) put Nishikori and Osaka as its respondents’ fourth- and sixth-favorite athletes, past or present. Baseball players Ichiro (retired), Shohei Ohtani and Shigeo Nagashima (long retired) and figure skater Yuzuru Hanyu rounded out the top five.

Osaka’s U.S. Open title was voted the top sports moment of Emperor Akihito’s reign from 1989 to April 30, beating Ichiro’s retirement and Hanyu’s repeat Olympic crown in PyeongChang. Perhaps there was some recency bias.

Akatsuki Uchida, a tennis journalist from Japan, said that Nishikori’s U.S. Open final was a bigger moment for Japanese tennis than Osaka’s win over Serena Williams, though.

“Tennis at that time [in 2014] was not broadcast in Japan,” she said at the U.S. Open. “Media coverage of tennis was decreasing before Kei made that final. For most of Japanese, not tennis fans, but ordinary people, it came from out of nowhere. … He became like an overnight sensation. Since then, the situation of tennis in Japan changed dramatically.

“If [Osaka] wins the title before Kei won the title here, it could have been way bigger, but since Kei made the final before Naomi, it made Naomi’s achievement, still a big deal, less surprising.”

Another key difference: Nishikori spent the majority of his childhood in Japan, while Osaka’s family, with a Haitian father and Japanese mother, moved to the U.S. when she was 3 years old.

Osaka has dual citizenship, but Japanese law requires one to be chosen over the other by the 22nd birthday. Osaka turned 22 last month, before which she confirmed what most had assumed, that she picked Japan.

Uchida was unsure whether Osaka and Nishikori could propel tennis at the Tokyo Games into a greater spotlight among 33 total sports.

“But if Kei and Naomi played mixed doubles, that would be a big thing,” she said.

Nishikori has already reportedly said he plans to enter singles and doubles in Tokyo, the latter with Ben McLachlan, Japan’s top doubles player. McLachlan was born in New Zealand and in 2017 switched representation to Japan, his mother’s birth nation.

But Nishikori did not rule out adding mixed doubles.

“Very hot, very humid, playing singles and two doubles, I don’t know if I can,” he said before the U.S. Open. “I haven’t think too much yet, honestly. I don’t know. I will talk to Naomi later.”

Nishikori smiled as he brought up Osaka’s name at the end of his answer to a question that didn’t mention her. Later in the tournament, Osaka was told Nishikori’s thoughts.

“I would definitely play with him,” said Osaka, who in 2016 was the highest-ranked eligible player not to make the Rio Olympic field. “I just — I would actually need to practice doubles for the first time in my life. Because you cannot play mixed doubles with Kei Nishikori and lose in the first round of the Olympics in Tokyo. That would be the biggest — like, I would cry. I would actually cry for losing a doubles match. Yeah, definitely I think that that would be so, like, historic in a way. And I would love to do it, but I need to practice my doubles.”

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