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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MORE: Jason Lezak recalls Beijing Olympic relay

Michael Phelps still timed when he swims, coach jokes about comeback

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Michael Phelps has repeated in the last year that he feels strong enough that he could make a comeback, but he doesn’t have the motivation.

Maybe the 10th anniversary of Phelps’ eight gold medals at the Beijing Games this month provides the itch. Who knows. But so far, Phelps hasn’t been persuaded, even by jocular texts from longtime coach Bob Bowman.

“He’ll text ‘100 free?’” Phelps said, laughing, in a recent interview, according to the Baltimore Sun. “And I’m like, ‘Bob, shut up. Leave me alone.’”

Bowman, who recently apologized for inappropriate texts to retired swimmer Caroline Burckle in 2011, said he was not serious about urging Phelps to unretire, according to the report.

“Did he say I want him to swim? I don’t think I really do,” Bowman said. “There’s a delicious irony in the fact that because he’s been on Peloton and takes care of himself really well, he’s in way better shape than he was when he came back in 2013. And I see him swim, you see the stroke and it’s like, ‘Wow, that’s not really too bad.’ But no, I definitely do not want him to have to go through all that.”

The whole story is reminiscent of nine years ago, when Phelps’ mom, Debbie, needled her son about going for Rio 2016 after the Brazilian city was awarded the Games. Phelps had already publicly said he would retire in three years, after the London Olympics.

“When they announced Rio, I texted him, I’m like, Michael, 2016, Rio, 50 free, 100 free, just a relay,” Debbie Phelps said in 2012. “No, mother. I will send you there.”

When Phelps did unretire in 2013, it started with a text.

“Let’s have dinner soon. MP,” Phelps texted Bowman at the time, according to Bowman’s book, “The Golden Rules.”

Bowman and Phelps met. More from Bowman’s book:

Michael leaned forward and his eyes narrowed. He looked at me and said, “I’m thinking about coming back.” I stared at him. He smiled a bit. “Yep,” he went on, “I’m thinking about the Olympics one more time.”

I wasn’t sure if I should jump for joy or start crying.

“You want to come back?” I asked, a bit shocked and confused. He sort of grinned and nodded. … 

Michael looked at me with the face of a wizened young man. And he said, “That’s the only reason I want to do it. For me. I love to swim. I want to swim.”

He paused for a second. “And I have more things I want to accomplish.”

Recent social media posts have shown Phelps in the pool with retired seven-time Australian Olympic medalist swimmer Grant Hackett. The Baltimore Sun reported the two compete against each other and that Phelps also asks Bowman to time him when he goes to Arizona State University to “splash around.”

“There are very few times when I don’t try to get up and go something semi-quick,” Phelps said, according to the report. “It’s just natural. It’s the only thing I know, I guess.”

Bowman now coaches at ASU, and Phelps lives nearby with his wife and two young boys.

For those still hoping, Phelps did say in July 2017 there was a one or two percent chance he would come back, according to Entertainment Weekly.

“Very minimal,” Phelps said after a laugh then, according to the magazine. “I wanted to retire on my own terms and never have a what-if, and I’m to that point where I’m very content with everything that’s going on.”

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MORE: Jason Lezak recalls Beijing Olympic relay as 10th anniversary hits

Clark Kent breaks Michael Phelps record

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It would take Superman to break some of Michael Phelps‘ records. Well, Clark Kent Apuada has arrived.

Apuada, 10, broke Phelps’ 23-year-old meet record for ages 10 and under in the 100m butterfly at the Far Western Long Course Championships on Sunday.

Apuada clocked 1:09.38, taking 1.1 seconds off one of Phelps’ oldest marks, and won seven races overall at the meet.

“That was one of my dreams, to beat a Michael Phelps record,” Apuada said on a CBS affiliate in Monterey, Calif, “since I was 7.”

Phelps set that mark in 1995 and also held the 10-and-under national age group record in the 100m fly for more than 15 years until it was broken in 2012. The 10-and-under national age group record for the 100m fly is now at 1:05.98, lowered by Andrew Rogers in 2015.

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