Saturday, August 16, 2008

Phelps vs. Cavic

I salute Michael Phelps for his incredible accomplishments at the Beijing Olympics. I also salute Milorad Cavic, whom Phelps beat by .01 seconds in the 100 meter butterfly to win his seventh gold medal, tying him with Mark Spitz. It was the closest race Phelps has had, with one more to go. According to what I've read, it is the smallest margin of victory possible in the Olympics.

But I am nagged by doubt. I watched the race and the video replays immediately after. The replays were far from conclusive. The Serbs filed a protest, but Olympic officials stood by the results, in spite of what the video showed. From a Reuters report:
Serb Olympic team officials believed Cavic had touched first and the timing system may have failed but Ben Ekumbo, the race referee, ruled the result should stand.

FINA [the sport's governing body] also said Phelps would not have lost the gold medal if the Serb protest had been upheld.

"It was a question to share or not share first place," said Cornel Marculescu, FINA's executive director. "With everything we saw, the first arrival was Michael Phelps."
According to race referee Ben Ekumbo of Kenya:
"I personally looked at the video footage and it was very clear that the Serbian swimmer touched second after Michael Phelps," said the Kenyan.

"It was clear from the video that it was an issue of stroking. One was stroking and the other was gliding.
If these officials saw video that convinced them I would like to see it. Michael Phelps is Big Money -- big money for more than Michael Phelps. A loss in his quest for a seventh gold medal would have deflated his market value considerably. It would have deflated interest in watching the Games. There were too many people in positions of power who stood to lose too much money if Phelps lost.

I don't know if the race results were fixed in any way. Maybe Phelps won because he really touched first. Maybe Phelps won because Cavic was too soft on his touch, as Ekumbo claimed. But saying Cavic was too soft on his touch is different than claiming Phelps touched first. Marculescu said "the first arrival" was Phelps. Ekumbo agreed. It sounds like the officials want to say Cavic touched first but not hard enough to register, and that he didn't touch first, Phelps did. Which is it, guys?

Given all the politics and money involved with the Olympics, this case is far from settled, for me, at least. But regardless, Michael Phelps is still a great champion, and I wish him well.

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