So much history can be decided by fractions of a second in swimming. But never in the history of the sport has so much been at stake with so little time as there was today in the 100-meter butterfly.
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In what will almost certainly go down as the most dramatic -- and perhaps most controversial -- race of Phelps' career, he out-touched Serbia's Milorad Cavic to win his seventh gold medal.
Officially, Phelps got his fingertips on the touch pad in 50.58 seconds, and Cavic touched in 50.59. After a protest by Serbian coaches, officials of FINA, the international swimming federation, took a replay of the backup video and slowed it down to a 10,000th of a second.
A few frames showed Phelps getting his hand on the wall first. Serbian team officials, according to FINA, were satisfied with the judges' conclusion.
Phelps had to whip off his goggles to see the scoreboard after he touched the wall, and when he saw first place next to his name, the 23-year-old pumped his fist and let loose a primal yell.
"It just shows you anything's possible," said Phelps, who earned a $1 million bonus from Speedo by tying Mark Spitz's gold-medal mark at a single Games. "When you're really focused on your dream, anything is possible. I saw so many quotes saying it's impossible, it won't happen. It shows you."
After Phelps' 100 butterfly win, he appeared on NBC with Spitz, who was in Detroit. Spitz said it was "a tribute to Phelps' greatness" that he tied his record and will likely surpass it with one race remaining.
"I'm proud of you. America is proud of you," Spitz said. "He's the best Olympian of all time, not just in the pool, but in the way he's handled himself."
- Kevin Van Valkenburg
Silver: Milorad Cavic, Serbia
Bronze: Andrew Lauterstein, Australia
World record: 50.40
Key to the victory: In the most exciting finish of these Olympics, and maybe in Olympic history, Phelps out-touched Cavic at the wall, beating him by 0.01 of a second.
Highlight: After a protest by Serbian coaches, officials of FINA, the international swimming federation, took a replay of the backup video and slowed it down to a 10,000th of a second. A few frames -- according to Mark Schubert, coach of USA Swimming -- showed Phelps getting his hand on the wall first.
Quote: "I felt a little bit of everything. Relief, excitement, everything. ... When I saw the [first] next to my name, that's when I sort of let out my roar." -- Phelps