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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I know MP took it out slow, but pretty sure he was quicker than 1.04 m/s.


It probably calculates the speed as if the pool was 25 meters instead of 50 😀

Brian Zhang

Yeah I think it’s a mistake. If he was going 1.04m/s, and taking into account a 15 meter underwater, his swim portion would have been 33 seconds on its own for the first 50.

He would have swum 35 meters at a pace of 1.04m/s.
35/1.04= 33.65 seconds.

Ol' Longhorn

Still can’t believe he breathed every stroke the entire way and including into the finish. Meanwhile, Dressel is no breathing the last 15 meters or so.

Captain Ahab

Best race in history!


Worst finish in history. It immortalized the name “Cavic” which means “bad finish”.