Phelps’ Seventh Gold Most Incredible Yet

The computer called it one-hundredth of a second, but technology is a fantastic liar. Imagine the time it would take to travel between a pair of atoms on the tip of a needle – that was the difference that delivered Michael Phelps his seventh gold medal.

But clarity didn’t come before thousands of eyes snapped quickly upward to the giant screen, officially registering Phelps’ victory inside Beijing’s Water Cube. A collective stare was followed by a rolling whoosh of American joy and disbelief as his name popped up one-hundredth of a second faster than Serbia’s Milorad Cavic – 50.58 seconds to 50.59.

Good enough for an Olympic record, and fast enough to touch off an explosion in the bleachers looming overhead: “WHOOOOOOOAAAAAA!”

Phelps went into the final 50 meters of Saturday’s 100-meter butterfly in seventh place, then shovel-kicked his way to a victory that could hardly be measured in the length of an eyelash. Even he had to take off his goggles and eye the scoreboard to believe it, at which point he slapped his spindly fingers into the water and let out a roar of “Yeaaaaaaaaaaah!”

At that very moment, the Serbian swimming team was looking up at the same results from the edge of the pool deck, screaming another chorus of “NO!” The Serbians would later protest the results, to the point that FINA had to review a replay that slowed the race down to one ten-thousandths of real time. The video and timing system showed that Phelps had indeed won, if only by a few cells at the tips of his fingers. Even the Serbs had to relent after FINA ushered them into the video room and showed them frame-by-frame results. But even now, the win looks indecipherable to the naked eye.

“I saw the finish on the big screen after the race and then I saw it slowed down frame by frame at the massage area,” Phelps said. “I was looking at the computer, and it’s almost too close to see. One one-hundredth is the smallest margin of victory in our sport. It’s pretty cool.”

Pretty cool and pretty stunning – a finish that provoked a range of the most raw human reactions possible. Two fans in cowboy hats leaned over a railing near the center of the pool and shrieked at each other over the chaotic finish, “He’s gonna lose! He lost! He lost!” Journalists leapt from their seats in disbelief, some scrambling to change the tops of their stories to match a headline of “PHELPS DEFEATED.” But the computer said otherwise, and video would back it up later.

Cavic clearly didn’t believe at first. Multiple replays in slow motion looked too close, something that apparently didn’t sit well immediately after the race. The silver medalist sped by reporters, looking disgusted and waving off interviews. He headed straight toward a coach from his Serbian team, who wrapped his hands around Cavic’s neck and looked him in the eyes.

“You won,” his coach said.

Cavic nodded and collapsed his 6-foot-5 frame into an embrace. The man who Friday looked at Phelps and said, “It would be good for the sport if he lost,” thought he had delivered the most unpopular booster shot in the history of swimming. And when he found out he hadn’t, he slowly graduated through every conceivable emotion – anger, disgust, acceptance and then, finally, understated happiness over having captured his country’s first ever medal in swimming.

“I’m sure people will be bringing this up for years, saying that, you know, ‘You won that race,’” Cavic said. “Well, this is just what the results showed. This is what the electronic board showed. I kind of have mixed emotions about it. This could be kind of a good thing. If I lost by a tenth of a second or two-tenths of a second, I could probably be a lot cooler about this. But with a hundredth of a second, I’ll have a whole lot more people saying, ‘You really won that race.’

“Is Michael Phelps the gold-medal winner? I think if we had to do this again, I’d win.”

It’s that kind of bravado that may have crept back to haunt Cavic. Just before the race, Phelps’ coach, Bob Bowman, looked at his star and repeated the words.

“It would be good for swimming if you lost,” Bowman said.

It was the perfect dig at the perfect time.

“I always welcome comments,” Phelps said later with a grin. “If anybody wants to say anything, I’ll always welcome it. I like it. It definitely motivates me even more.”

Phelps and Cavic actually had a brief moment before the race where each stood staring at each other, both waiting to step up on their blocks. Neither looked away for that one moment – like two fighters standing at center ring waiting to tap gloves.

“Both of us have metallic goggles, so I couldn’t see his eyes and he couldn’t see mine,” Cavic said.

Once they finally hit the water, Phelps didn’t come out as fast as many expected, particularly after the 50-meter turn. Phelps was at the rear end of the entire field at that point, a half-body length behind Cavic and teammate Ian Crocker – a pair of historically fast starters. But Phelps began chopping into that lead almost immediately, moving up to fourth place by the final 25 meters. That set up the ending that swimming aficionados predicted, with the final 10 meters a dead heat between Phelps and Cavic.

It wasn’t until the last stroke of both swimmers that the race was decided, when Cavic chose to glide in underwater for his last two meters, while Phelps forced in one last stroke coming out of the water and chopping downward onto the wall to finish. In that last moment, Phelps thought the decision to “chop the wall” had lost gold.

“I really thought that cost me the race, but it happened to be the direct opposite,” Phelps said. “If I would have glided, I would have ended up being way too long. I ended up making the right decision. Trying to just take sort of a short, fast stroke to try to get my hand on the wall first – it turned out to be in my favor.”

And it was that moment – that decision – which delivered Phelps his history, tying him with Spitz, both now having won seven gold medals in a single Olympic Games. It also set the stage for Phelps carving out his own plateau with one event left. After Sunday’s 4×100 medley relay, in which the Americans have never lost and are overwhelming favorites, Phelps should realize his impossible quest for eight gold medals.

“It seems like every day I’m in sort of a dream world,” Phelps said. “Sometimes you sort of have to pinch yourself to see if it’s really real. I’m just happy I’m in the real world.”

Source: Yahoo! Sports
Author: Charles Robinson

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published.