Tritonwear Showdown: Phelps vs Cavic 100 Butterfly 2008 Beijing

by SwimSwam 14

May 29th, 2017 News, Training

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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Igor Kuksa
4 years ago

I’m so surprised there is no real professional analysis until today to that race, and how did Phelps won it. If you really want to know – first, look at the 20 meters of the Finish (not just the hand touch) and ask: how did Phelps managed to close the gap there, although cavic made the same bit of strokes as he did at that position and even stoped breathing to save time? a hint: Phelps knew about hydrodynamics more than cavic. and If cavic knew what hydrodynamics mistekes Not to do – he would have won this race. its no magic.Its hydrodynamics of swimming. tell me what you think and i tell you my professional analysis and what i… Read more »

Everyone knows
5 years ago

Funny, even the official timekeeper (Omega, Phelps official sponsor at the time) admitted that Cavic finished ahead of Phelps, but did not trigger the sensor because did not press hard enough.

“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… Read more »

5 years ago

How can all these flyers have a DPS (distance per stroke?) of about 1 meter, if they are taking 16 strokes to get across a 50m pool?

Captain Awesome
Reply to  SinkSunk
5 years ago

Even if they all took 15m off the start it should be around 2m per stroke. Can someone explain where those values came from?

6 years ago

But Cavic won!

Lazy Observer
Reply to  Bob
6 years ago


Reply to  Lazy Observer
6 years ago

Even a Lazy Observer knows better 😀

6 years ago

The World Championship race 2009 in Rome was so much more thrilling than the Olympics when you consider the rematch, world record in the heats, the come from behind and the suit issue.

Reply to  kirkola
5 years ago

7th gold medal.

Reply to  kirkola
5 years ago

Not to mention both Phelps and Cavic broke the world record earlier that year (Cavic in the semi-final), and they both swam the final under 50 seconds. As far as I can tell, that’s still the only time anyone’s ever been recorded as swimming the 100m butterfly long course in less than 50 seconds

They’re both up there with the most re-watchable swimming races of all time..

6 years ago

Close race all around!!

6 years ago

Never realized that Crocker was beaten for the bronze by .01.

Steve Nolan
Reply to  swimmermama
6 years ago

Could have given me 10,000 guesses and I wouldn’t have gotten Andrew Lauterstein.

6 years ago

This race was totally epic I remember watching it with my teammates. I can’t believe the breakdown TritonWear gave in the in-depth analysis. The second 25 Phelps took 19 strokes to Calvis’s 18. Also, Phelps went almost a meter more underwater on the second 25. It is crazy to see all the stats that led to a 0.01 difference.