Epic Showdowns in the Pool: Men’s 100m Fly Gold Medal – Beijing 2008

Of all races in recent swimming history, the men’s 100m fly final at the 2008 Olympics in Beijing is without a doubt one of the most memorable. Who could forget that moment of collective shock and awe when Michael Phelps somehow managed to overtake Milorad Cavic in the final meter of the race to make Olympic history?

Cavic vs Phelps


While there had been a lot of hype surrounding Phelps’ run at Mark Spitz’s record of seven gold medals in a single Olympics, the 100 butterfly was perhaps his most doubted victory. It was a longshot. Swimming next to Phelps was his American teammate Ian Crocker, who was the world record holder at the time. On his other side was the Serbian butterfly champion Milorad Cavic, who had proven himself to be a worthy adversary as the fastest qualifier out of the semifinals. 

Could Phelps secure a seventh gold medal to equal Spitz’s record and stay in the running to become the greatest Olympian of all time? That was the question on everyone’s minds as the competitors dove in for the final.

Doubts grew on the first length when Cavic powered into a commanding lead. The rivals both took 16 strokes, but Cavic was more efficient with a stroke index of 1.06 over Phelps’ 1.03. The Serbian out-split Phelps by 0.62 seconds before turning in a lightning fast 0.54 seconds, nearly three-tenths faster than Phelps. Hopes for the seventh gold seemed to diminish as Cavic blasted off the wall with Phelps trailing; it appeared the demanding nature of his monstrous event lineup was beginning to show. Even as Phelps fought back and gained some water on Cavic, it still didn't look good for Phelps.

Phelp's Miraculous Finish

Then, in a photo finish that has been replayed millions of times since that August 16th race, Phelps squeezed in a rapid flurry of strokes in the last few meters to scrape ahead of Cavic by the narrowest of margins: 0.01 seconds. The Serbian made the catastrophic mistake of lifting his head on his long reach into the wall, which gave Phelps the extra centimeter he needed to nail the touch and secure yet another gold medal.

That unbelievable finish goes down as one of the most exciting in swimming history. The speechlessness of the commentators, the shockwave in the crowd, and the roar of the champion still gives me shivers.  Watch it yourself and recall the thrill of this epic showdown.

See the results, along with the metrics, here.

Check out another epic showdown from the 2000 Sydney Olympics: women's 100m butterfly

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