The ending of the 100-meter butterfly has been played and replayed on TV and the Internet over the past three months. Despite photo evidence to the contrary from SI senior staff photographer Heinz Kluetmeier, Cavic still believes he made contact with the wall first. But the winner is the person who triggers the touch pad, which takes three kilograms per square centimeter of force. Cavic concedes that was Phelps.
"I never really wanted to burden myself with the what-if questions," he says. And: "It's time to move on." And: "I'm really looking to the future now." (Specifically, he's got his eye on the world championships next summer, when he hopes to reclaim his 100 butterfly world record in a race that will most likely include Phelps.) But this week, he found himself talking about the past again when Phelps, appearing on 60 Minutes, said that Cavic made a crucial mistake in the final meter of the race. "So he's coming up and then trying to lift his head up before he touches the wall," Phelps said. "[My head] is in a straight streamline. So that's the difference in the race.... If his head is down there, he wins."
Phelps was simply stating a fact, not criticizing Cavic, but those comments still hit hard. "I'm not saying his analysis of what happened is incorrect," Cavic says in a rare moment of bitterness. "I'm just saying he failed to take into account the things in the other 99 meters of the race."
Cavic then reeled off a list of advantages that Phelps had—a custom-made Speedo swimsuit, a ripple-free cap, a team of doctors, nutritionists, physicists and therapists at his disposal. He knows it sounds like sour grapes, but he can't help it. Come on, it was one hundredth of a second. How would any of us handle missing out on global glory by some infinitesimal distance? He would have been rich. He would have been famous. And Phelps still would have won seven gold medals. Phelps would have been just fine.
In the days after the race, Cavic enjoyed his own brief celebrity—he received thousands of e-mails and letters congratulating him for pushing Phelps to the brink and handling his loss with dignity. In the months since, though, his name has been forgotten. Someone did pretend to be him on Facebook, but that was about the extent of his notoriety. He just became that guy, you know, the one Phelps beat at the wall.
"The winners always write history," Cavic says. Yes, they do.
Joe Posnanski is an SI.com special contributor and a columnist for The Kansas City Star.
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