Michael Phelps vs Milorad Cavic 100 Butterfly 2008 Beijing

Courtesy of Tritonwear 

Of all races in recent swimming history, the men’s 100 butterfly 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?

Click here to visualize the live breakdown, by TritonWear

Tritonwear 2008 Olympic 100 butterfly breakdown, stats (courtesy of Tritonwear, a SwimSwam partner)

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 the American by 0.62 seconds and then turned in a lightning fast 0.54 seconds, which was 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, there didn’t seem to be enough room left in the pool.

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 send shivers down my spine. Watch it yourself and recall the thrill of this epic showdown.

Tritonwear is a SwimSwam partner.

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Matthew Harris
1 year ago

This article fails to mention that video replay taken at 10,000 frames per second demonstrates without a doubt that Cavic touched the wall before Phelps.

2 years ago

Čavić touched the pad first, but Phelps triggered the pad first due to the stronger finish per Omega. Tied for Gold would have been the most fair outcome in my opinion.
One of the greatest races of all time for sure!

2 years ago

For everyone saying Cavic touched first… if so then why didn’t Cavic at least tie him? Seems to me like they touched within the same hundredth, and it came down to thousandths… and Phelps ended up being on the right end of the hundredth.

2 years ago

You missed a small detail. Phelps got gold medal but didn’t win. Cavic touched the edge first, as shown by photos, but it didn’t “register”.It was just a big scam. Phelps has that “gold”, but he ended up being a fraud.

Reply to  moler
2 years ago

In that case, why didn’t Cavic tie Phelps?

2 years ago

To everyone trashing Cavic’s bad finish, I think that both swimmers didn’t finish extremely well. If Cavic won by 0.01, everyone would be saying “Phelps shouldn’t have taken that extra stroke”. This all came down to the tiniest of details, and a little bit of luck

Reply to  Justhereforfun
2 years ago

Honestly, I think it came down to who was Phelps sponsor at the time: Omega, the time measuring company!

2 years ago

Before swim swam the race club had a message board and blog by Gary Hall Jr and his training partners in the 3 years leading up to the 08 Olympics.

I remember following Cavic on there. It was neat reading about how Olympians trained back then. I think it took until 2018 or so to get content like this from other big swimmers.

I think some other swimmers contributed content ike Nick Brunelli who wasn’t part of the group.

2 years ago

“Milorad Cavic of Serbia seemed to have touched the wall first. And, in fact, he did—just not hard enough to have registered on the touchpad of the Omega timing system.”

“Omega confirmed this later.”

“There is a big, big, big difference … between touching that pad and pushing the pad,” said Omega Timing’s general manager at the time, Christophe Berthaud. “It’s for sure—and the video also shows it—that Cavic touched the pad before Phelps, but he was sliding while Phelps was rushing on the pad … and the difference between them is really a hundredth of a second. All the records … in the system show this.”

Honestly the frame by frame pictures seem to confirm this. They both have… Read more »

phelps swims 200 breast rio
Reply to  Ervin
2 years ago

That’s really a remarkable interview with Cavic that you linked to on your post.

Cold take
2 years ago

Cavic touched first. Registered second

Reply to  Cold take
2 years ago

Wasn’t the official statement from the touchpad company that Cavic touched first but basically didn’t touch hard enough? Phelps touched more forcefully and triggered the tocuhpad first? If you want to relieve the moment i feel like at least mentioning there was controversy should have been part of it.

Reply to  Cold take
2 years ago

comment image

The unoriginal Tim
Reply to  Cold take
2 years ago

Its clear on picture 5 that Phelps touched first but in real time it is unbelievable that Phelps won. It was all checked – the timing system worked – Phelps won. Cavic accepted this at the time but since said a few things. Cavic had a full bodysuit as well and it was his inly event. That’s how good Phelps was. He got lucky but sometimes you make your own luck.