Omega, sponsor of Michael Phelps and official timekeeper at the Games and to world swimming, has released the photos of the finish to that 100 'fly thriller that split Superfish and Milorad Cavic by 0.01sec. You can see the images on the Omega website.
Omega timer Silvio Chianese, says: "In the third set of images, with Phelps on the left, it is clear he is really pushing hard, while Cavic, on the right, is just arriving."
The result was decisive to Phelps equalling the seven gold-medal tally of Mark Spitz and then going on to win a record eight gold medals.
Phelps' time was 50.58sec, Cavic's 50.59, both personal bests. Chianese said that it required 3 kilograms (6.6 pounds) of pressure to activate the touchpad. "Any less and waves would set it off. You can't just put your fingertips on the pad, you really have to push it."
In world swimming, such things are known and have been known for many years, throughout the development of technology that was first tested in competition back the the Pan American Games in Winnipeg in 1967. On the first day of that competition, the system failed and Mark Spitz set a world record on a manual hand-held basis to a tenth of a second. The day after, on July 27, 1967, Ken Walsh (USA) became the first swimmer to set a world record officially registered by electronic timing to a hundredth of a second. His 52.58 in the 100m freestyle was clocked using an Omega touch pad. The equpiment was used as backup at the 1968 Games in Mexico but was not used as official timing equipment, counting to 0.000sec (for one Games only) until Munich, 1972.
The photos of the Phelps-Cavic finish were taken by Omega cameras placed directly above the finish line, slightly angled to include two lanes in each photo. "We mainly use the photos for relays, to determine disqualifications if someone dives in before a teammate touches," he said. "This is the only sport where athletes don't cross the finish line. The athlete stops. For us, it was clear five minutes after."
FINA executive director Cornel Marculescu noted: "This is very simple. Our sport is about which athlete stops the time by pushing the touchpad. Omega can't stop the time. In our sport we don't have photo finishes like in athletics. In our sport, it's who touches first. Water is a different element."
Quite so - and the question to the conspiracy theorists is: how could Omega possibly have intervened in that race? And if so, do we assume that they did so when Steffen beat Torres by the same amount, when Crocker was locked out of the medals by Lauterstein in the same 100m 'fly final ... and on, and on. The truth is that Phelps was travelling much faster than Cavic in that last accurate dagger-like stroke, while Cavic stretched and came at the pad from below at an angle. Done deal. A great result for both men.