Great ones find a way. You get a sense that even if
For starters, Phelps was seventh at the 50-meter turn, somewhere in his own zip code, maybe in Lane 4 of the track stadium next door. Even Phelps' power-sleeping dog,
Was Phelps worried? Not in the least. He was far down at the last Olympics when Crocker seemed headed for sure gold -- and still won that race by four-hundredths. "I knew I had to be within half a bodylength at the turn," Phelps said. "I race against Crocker all the time. He has front-half speed. If I had half a bodylength, I knew I would be fine. When I saw Crocker at the turn, I knew Cavic would be somewhere with him. I could sort of see him out of the corner of my eye."
In fact, Cavic had more than a half- body lead, but that soon evaporated. Phelps picked off one swimmer after another, until he caught Cavic at the wall. Phelps thought he had lost. "I actually did," he said later. "When I did chop the last stroke, I thought that cost me the race, but it was actually the opposite. If I had glided, I would have been way too long. I took short, faster strokes to try to get my hand on the wall. I ended up making the right decision. It turned out to be in my favor." When Phelps turned to look at the scoreboard, he punched the air with his left hand and then the water with both hands.
The finish was so close that the Serbian coaches initially filed a protest, something the gracious Cavic had initially asked them not to do. When the officials watched the frame-by-frame replay of the finish with officials from FINA, they agreed with the timing device.
A day earlier, Cavic told reporters it would be good for swimming if someone took Phelps down.
"When people say things about that, it just fires me up," Phelps said. "It was like the 400 free relay. One of the French swimmers (
After the race, Australia's
In the meantime, a celebration was taking place up in section 105 of the stands from people who had very little voice and emotion left. "I hope I can make it through tomorrow," said
For now, Phelps is at the center of the sporting universe. On Sunday, he'll swim the third (butterfly) leg in the finals of the 4x100-meter medley relay with