Phelps Comes From Behind To Win 7th Gold

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Michael Phelps won a seventh gold medal at the Beijing Games by the slimmest of margins. He beat Milorad Cavic of Serbia by 0.01 seconds. It was the first race of these games in which Phelps didn't set a world record. The win ties him with Mark Spitz for the most golds won at a single Olympics.


This is Weekend Edition from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon. Well, as you just may have heard in that outstanding newscast, Michael Phelps, indeed, won his seventh gold medal at the Beijing Olympics today. His win in the 100-meter butterfly ties Mark Spitz for the most gold medals at a single Olympics. Halfway through the race, Mr. Phelps was way behind. The finish was so tight it took super-slow-motion video to confirm the result from Beijing. And in real time, NPR's Howard Berkes reports.

HOWARD BERKES: Michael Phelps is known for slow starts, so short races like the 100-meter butterfly are a challenge. And sure enough, at today's start, Phelps was more tortoise than hare.

(Soundbite of starting horn)

BERKES: Phelps was back in the pack when he first came up for air, and he was next to last at the turn. Six swimmers were ahead. It seemed the gold medal record was lost. But remember, Phelps is the master of turns using that underwater dolphin kick to gain speed before coming up to the surface. He caught the leaders, was in second place a meter away, and lunged into the wall with half a butterfly stroke.

(Soundbite of crowd cheering)

Mr. MICHAEL PHELPS (Swimmer, U.S. Olympics Team): If I would have glided, I would have ended up being way too long. And I ended up making the right decision and trying to just take sort of a short, faster stroke to try to get my hand on the wall first. And it turned out to be in my favor.

BERKES: The margin at the finish was impossibly close, as quick as a flash of lightning, 10 times faster than the blink of an eye. Too fast even for a Kodak moment. The slow-motion replay couldn't keep up. Milorad Cavic is the American-born Serbian swimmer who finished a hundredth of a second behind.

Mr. MILORAD CAVIC (Swimmer, Serbia Olympics Team): I'm not about fighting it. You know, I did see the tape. It was kind of hard to see. I know I had a long finish, and Michael Phelps had a short finish. You know that's - it's all I'm going to say about that. I'm not angry. I'm not angry at all.

BERKES: Cavic was at peace with the finish, but Serbian team officials were not. They filed a formal protest. So, the International Swimming Federation slowed the video replay to ten-thousandths of a second and then ruled on the result. This is Ben Ekumbo of Kenya, the race referee.

Mr. BEN EKUMBO (Referee, Olympic Swimming Competition): I personally looked at the video footage, and it was very clear that the Serbian swimmer touched second. It is evident from the video that it was an issue of stroking. One was stroking, and the other was gliding.

BERKES: If Phelps wins another gold medal Sunday, he'll have the biggest haul of golds for any athlete in any sport in any Olympics.

Mr. JOHN NABER (Former Swimmer, U.S. Olympic Team): What he has done here in Beijing, I believe, creates an entire new universe of which he's the only member.

BERKES: John Naber won four swimming gold medals at the 1976 Olympics in Montreal. He says the pressure and difficulty grow with each medal won.

Mr. NABER: He is doing this while bearing the expectations of an entire planet. Winning my second gold medal was twice as hard as winning the first one because the expectations double. Winning the third one is twice as hard as winning the second one. But winning seven or eight gold medals, it's exponentially difficult.

BERKES: The eighth race is the 400 medley relay Sunday, an event the American team dominates. Phelps did not do something in the butterfly he's done in every other race this week. He failed to break the world record. Maybe Michael Phelps is human after all. Howard Berkes, NPR News, Beijing.

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