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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Corrected: Michael Phelps’ rant not about Milorad Cavic

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Michael Phelps went on a self-described “rant,” defending his clean record in a Facebook live video Friday.

It appeared that Phelps shot back at former rival Milorad Cavic‘s anti-doping comments, eight days after Cavic said Phelps’ recovery rate was “nothing short of science fiction.”

But Phelps later clarified that he was responding to a comment that somebody made on the live chat.

“I think that comment is so rude and so beyond anything that’s really imaginable,” Phelps said in a Facebook video. “You want to go and look at any results I’ve ever had in a drug test, go ahead. … If you think I cheated, that’s your own opinion. I know what I did in the sport. I know the hard work I put in. And I know what went into my body, and drugs were not one of those things.”

Phelps, who repeated last week in front of Congress that he didn’t think he had ever competed against a clean field internationally, again voiced criticism about doping in sports Friday.

“People who test positive in sports don’t deserve another chance to perform because they’re doing something that other people are doing with training,” Phelps said. “I know I busted my tail for years on end, in training, trying to get myself stronger and ready for every race. And that’s what I did. I had goals, and I achieved them because I worked hard to accomplish them. There are other people that are taking the easy, cheap way out, and they’re taking performance-enhancing drugs. That’s a joke. Sports in this world today, in my opinion, some of them are great, but some of them are also a joke because there are so, so many people that are trying to find a way to cheat and get away with it. And it takes away from sports. It takes away from the true meaning of what sport is. And that’s sad. And for me, as a father now, watching my son grow up and watching him to get in sports or grab a ball, do this, do that, I think that’s something that I hope changes in years to come, so my son never has to go through some of the things that I went through as an athlete.”

Phelps then apologized to his thousands of Facebook Live viewers.

“Sorry I went on that rant, guys, but this is something that’s such a passion for me that has to change,” he said. “It’s so frustrating when people sit there and say you cheated, or you do it this way or you do that. You don’t know. I’m the only one that knows. And all the other thousands of drug tests and vials of blood and cups of urine that I’ve had to give, open-handed.”

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MORE: Le Clos still has nightmares of losing to Michael Phelps in Rio

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this post incorrectly said Phelps’ comments were in response to Milorad Cavic’s comments from last week.

Michael Phelps’ old rival praises, questions his doping comments

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Milorad Cavic, who famously lost the 2008 Olympic 100m butterfly to Michael Phelps by .01, made a bit of a splash on social media in a letter to Michael Phelps regarding the American’s recent comments about the anti-doping system.

“Why you’re seeking reform now that you’re retired, and never before supported blood passports, is beyond us all, perhaps even convenient,” was posted on Cavic’s Instagram and Twitter accounts Thursday. “I’m not suggesting you’re a cheat, you’ve gradually improved your times throughout your career, but your recovery rate is nothing short of science fiction… We all just wished we could understand it.”

This wouldn’t be the first time Cavic, a California-born-and-raised Serbian, has not seen eye to eye with Phelps.

Just last year, Cavic said in a film on their controversial 2008 Olympic butterfly finish that, “my gut instinct is that I won.” It wasn’t clear if Cavic was referring to his immediate thoughts after the finish or his attitude eight years on.

Regardless, Cavic also gave Phelps bulletin-board material in 2008 on the eve of that Olympic race, saying that it would be good for the sport if Phelps lost.

Then in 2009, during the height of the high-tech suit era, Cavic jabbed Phelps again, offering to buy Phelps one of his own Arena suits that he deemed superior to Phelps’ Speedos.

Phelps responded by beating Cavic in the 100m butterfly at the world championships. Both swimmers went under the world record. Phelps reacted with arguably the most combative celebration of his career, popping his swimsuit a la college basketball players of the mid-2000s era.

It marked the last of Phelps’ record 29 individual world records.

Phelps went on to win the 100m butterfly at the 2012 Olympics, while Cavic tied for fourth in his final major meet before retiring.

Cavic finished his letter to Phelps on Thursday with conciliatory words for his former rival.

“Anyway, I really do hope that you’ll stick with this, because incase (sic) our sons go pro some day, I’d like to think you made a difference. #NeverTooLate,” he wrote.

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MORE: Le Clos still has nightmares of losing to Michael Phelps in Rio