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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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Novak Djokovic to miss U.S. Open, rest of 2017

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BELGRADE, Serbia (AP) — Novak Djokovic will sit out the rest of this season because of an injured right elbow, meaning he will miss the U.S. Open and end his streak of participating in 51 consecutive Grand Slam tournaments.

“It is the most important for me to recover, to be able to play injury free for as long as possible, to compete in the sport that has given me so much, the sport I love,” Djokovic said Wednesday. “Of course I want to return to the winning form, to win again, to win the trophies. But now it is not the time to talk about it. At this point, I’m focusing on recovery.”

Until now, Djokovic has never missed a major tournament since he entered his first, the 2005 Australian Open. That is the third-longest active run among men and seventh-longest in history.

In that time, the 30-year-old Serb has won 12 Grand Slam titles, including the U.S. Open in 2011 and 2015.

“The remarkable series has come to an end,” Djokovic said. “My body has its limits, and I have to respect that and be grateful for all that I have achieved so far.”

He said that Andre Agassi, who he recently began working with on a part-time basis, will be his coach when Djokovic returns to the tour next year. He plans to start with a tuneup tournament ahead of the Australian Open in January.

“He supports my decision to take a break, and remains my head coach,” Djokovic said. “He is going to help me get back into shape and bounce back strong after the recovery period.”

Djokovic made his announcement via Facebook, his website and at a news conference in Belgrade, Serbia.

Djokovic’s last match was on July 12, when he stopped playing during his Wimbledon quarterfinal against Tomas Berdych because of the elbow. Djokovic said that day he was in pain when he hit serves and forehands.

At the time, Djokovic said he had been struggling with the elbow on his racket-swinging arm for about 1½ years and so far had opted against having surgery — and he reiterated Wednesday that he does not need an operation.

But he also said then that he would seriously consider taking a prolonged break from the tour.

Since winning the 2016 French Open to complete a career Grand Slam and become the first man in nearly a half-century to win four consecutive major trophies, Djokovic’s form has dipped. He has fallen from No. 1 to No. 4 in the ATP rankings and failed to defend any of those titles. He has made it past the quarterfinals at only one of the past five Grand Slam tournaments: last year’s U.S. Open, where he lost in the final to Stan Wawrinka.

Djokovic, who also mentioned Wednesday that his wife is expecting their second child, reached at least the semifinals at Flushing Meadows each of the past 10 years. That includes seven appearances in the final.

This year’s U.S. Open starts Aug. 28.

Roger Federer demonstrated the benefits of a hiatus from the tour, sitting out the last half of 2016 after Wimbledon to let his surgically repaired left knee to heal fully.

Federer returned at the beginning of this season and won the Australian Open to end a 4½-year Grand Slam drought, plus titles at Indian Wells and Miami. He took another break after that, missing the entire European clay-court circuit, and returned for the grass, winning his eighth Wimbledon championship and 19th major title overall — both records for a man — this month.

“All the doctors I’ve consulted, and all the specialists I have visited, in Serbia and all over the world, have agreed that this injury requires rest. A prolonged break from the sport is inevitable,” Djokovic said. “I’ll do whatever it takes to recover. I will use the upcoming period to strengthen my body and also to improve certain tennis elements that I have not been able to work on over the past years, due to a demanding schedule.”

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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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