In My Mind: Let’s Give Mike Cavic a Few More Minutes

Column by Nate Jendrick

SEATTLE, Washington, November 7. MICHAEL, or Milorad, Cavic retired. You may have seen a headline about this in passing. Listeners of Off the Wall on Swimming World Radio heard myself and Felipe Delgado talk about it a bit. And… that's about it.

Caught up among the World Cup results, Lance Armstrong getting dropped by Nike, presidential debates and who-knows-what-else, it was swept up and away. Now, I'm not saying retirements–sans Michael Phelps, of course–in our sport catch the major media collective eye, but even in our sport I was shocked at how quickly Cavic's adieu came and went.

I, for one, think he deserves more credit for what he has done both in the pool and out. So as a final tribute, let's take another moment to reflect on the career of a great athlete.

A quick fun fact about Milorad Cavic: He has competed in four Olympic Games. The bonus fact: He has represented three different federations during those four outings. In 2000, he swam for Yugoslavia. In 2004, Serbia and Montenegro. Four years later, in Beijing, Serbia alone, which was the flag he competed under in 2012, as well. How many other athletes have that kind of staying power? It's an accomplishment to be applauded, without question.

When it comes to individual accomplishments in the pool, the guy was a talent rarely seen. He swam for Tustin High School in California and set a variety of records including a national high school record in the 50-yard freestyle. He was on the cover of Swimming World Magazine. And he transitioned well into meters by collecting a bucket full of international medals that included 10 European Championship medals (seven of them gold, three silver), World Championship gold and, of course, Olympic silver.

Admittedly, I would be remiss if I didn't talk about the story surrounding the latter accomplishment.
Aside from claiming a silver medal at the Olympic Games–an astounding feat by any measure–Cavic wasn't afraid to speak his mind. As we all know, he ignited a feud with Michael Phelps that was talked about around the world. He made the 100-meter butterfly in Beijing interesting. The story changed from a simply perceived “Phelps' next gold medal,” to “grudge match.”

He made the world realize that yes, even in this sport where swimmers have their faces hidden most of the race (you backstrokers excluded), there are personalities and rivalries. It was a current-day Gary Hall Jr./Alex Popov dynamic. And you know what? That's good for swimming. He took flak for talking trash about America's Olympic hero and the soon-to-be Greatest Olympian of All Time.

The only thing that should be said to that is: Good work. Politeness only gets you so far; only gets a sport so far. In a realm where storylines are what draw viewers and, thus, sponsorship dollars, we need people like Cavic to step up to the plate and be forward.

Of course, comments about Phelps weren't the only headlines Cavic received for his commentary. He had previously worn a shirt that read, “Kosovo is Serbia,” and ignited headlines in all corners of the globe then, too, among the backdrop of political issues with Kosovo and Serbia. I think it's admirable for an athlete to risk their image–the main thing that makes them a living–to promote their beliefs, whether others agree with them or not.

While many will say that political issues don't belong in sports, it's safe to say that until we stop keeping track of medal counts by country, they will forever be linked.

Finally, aside from his achievements and fortitude, we have to give Cavic credit for his commitment and for his tenacity. He didn't let himself get discouraged after a disqualification at the 2000 Sydney Olympics. He came back three more times. He didn't get intimidated by the greatest Olympian of all time. He pushed him to the toughest race of his life.

And after back surgery in 2010, when doctors said that his glory days were over, he didn't listen. He not only returned to the water, but he won a gold medal at the European Championships and he made it to the finals of the 100-meter butterfly in London.

Anyone who has ever had a serious injury of any kind can understand what a monumental achievement it is to get your normal function back. But when that “norm” is elite-level swimming, it's something that we mere mortals can only pretend we comprehend.

No one expects Cavic's retirement to get the same treatment as Michael Phelps's, but he was such a unique swimmer–and person–that more should certainly be written and discussed. Not because he asked for it or even wants it. But, because he deserves it.