By John Lohn
BEIJING, China, August 16. HE'S undoubtedly the greatest swimmer in history, and he also has a flair for the dramatic. By the narrowest of margins, Michael Phelps kept alive his chase for eight gold medals by winning the 100 butterfly and taking the breath away from the spectators who stuffed the Water Cube for a glimpse of history.
In seventh place at the 50-meter mark, where he turned in 24.04, Phelps powered through the final lap, making up ground with every stroke on frontrunner Milorad Cavic of Serbia. At the wall, it was Phelps touching in as close a finish as exists, his time of 50.58 just edging the 50.59 turned in by Cavic. Simply, it was an unreal ending.
The finish was similar to 2004 when Phelps closed at the wall and knocked off Ian Crocker for the gold by four hundredths of a second. Now, Phelps will have the chance to go after his eighth gold medal, that piece of hardware hinging on the United States winning the 400 medley relay during the final session of action tomorrow.
"When I had to take an extra half stroke (into the finish), I thought I lost the race," Phelps said. "I took my goggles off to see the No. 1 next to my name. It was then that I saw I won. When someone says you can't do something and say it's impossible to tie (Mark Spitz)…"
Phelps paused for a moment, then shook his head: "Anything is possible," he said.
With the win, Phelps guaranteed himself a $1 million bonus from Speedo. The victory was, however, protested by the Serbian Federation, which claimed Cavic touched ahead of Phelps. After reviewing the finish, FINA upheld the finish.
Cavic deserves significant credit for pushing Phelps as hard as he's been pressured this week. Cavic took the race out quickly, the only strategy that could have paid off with gold. His time was good for a European record and makes him the third-fastest performer in the history of the event, trailing Crocker and Phelps.
The finish for the bronze medal was as tight as the one for gold as Australian Andrew Lauterstein finished in 51.12 to better Ian Crocker (51.13). Kenya's Jason Dunford was fifth in 51.47 and Japan's Takuro Fujii was sixth in 51.50. Ukrainian Andriy Serdinov was seventh in 51.59 and eighth went to Paua New Guinea's Ryan Pini in 51.86.