Beijing-Hollywood could not have drafted a more dramatic ending to the Michael Phelps saga here in Beijing. His touch, worth $1,000,000 in bonus money from Speedo, will go down as one of the greatest of all time. The finish is reminiscent of the 100 fly in '88 where Anthony Nesty (SUR) out-touched Matt Biondi (USA) 53.00 to 53.01. Biondi was in a position to win 7 golds in Seoul. He came home with 5, plus a bronze in the 200 free and silver in the 100 fly. Nesty took the extra stroke and Biondi glided; Nesty got the win. This time, the man hunting 7 golds got the touch, once again by 1-1/100th of a second.
But Phelps was not the only storybook ending tonight: Rebecca Addlington broke the oldest World Record on the books, erasing Janet Evans' best; Brazilian Cesar Cielo won his nation's first gold; and Zimbabwe's Kirsty Coventry won her first individual gold.
Women's 200 Back Finals
In February of this year, one of the greatest swimming legend's World Record was broken when Kirsty Coventry (ZIM) donned the new Speedo LZR Racer to lower Krisztina Egerszegi's (HUN) record from 2:06.62 set in 1991, to 2:06.39. In July, her former teammate at Auburn University, and last years World Champ, Margaret Hoelzer (USA) lowered it again to 2:06.09.
Coventry had been under 3 World Records here in Beijing, but had so far come up with only silvers. This morning, she defended her Olympic Title and reclaimed her World Record, winning with a decisive 2:05.24 to Hoelzer's 2:06.23. As Coventry looked up at the clock, her head fell backwards and a huge sigh of relief went through her body. She had finally won gold in 2008.
Coventry: 29.62, 1:00.83, (31.21), 1:32.69 (31.86), 2:05.24 (32.55)
Hoelzer: 29.83, 1:01.69, (31.86) 1:33.85 (32.16), 2:06.23 (32.38)
"I'm so thrilled," said Coventry. "The plan was to go in and put everything on the line and see what I have to go home with. I'm about to throw up. I'm excited to hear the anthem play and for everyone back home to hear it. It is such a relief, I am so excited. I am thrilled with the time. I'm really loving what I'm doing, I'm swimming fast."
"It's fantastic," said Hoelzer of her silver. "I'm very pleased. Obviously I'm a little disappointed, everybody goes into the race wanting to win. But it's an improvement on my bronze in the 100."
Men's 100 Fly Finals
Milorad Cavic (SRB) came the closest to anyone of ruining the party here in Beijing. He was out ahead and did not fade. As Michael Phelps (USA) swam through the final 25, it actually looked like he wouldn't get to 7 golds. Then his touch; it really looked like he had made the wrong decision to take an extra stroke, but somehow, the hands of time were on his side. Even on the instant replay, it seemed almost impossible that he beat Cavic, yet his hand speed and the clock told a different tale: 50.58 to 50.59 and Phelps wins his 7th Olympic gold here in Beijing.
The Serbian Olympic Committee thinks differently, they protested the finish, but Cavic is not for it. "If it was up to me, I would drop the protest," said Cavic. "I don’t want to fight this. It is a gold medal at stake, and it is a difficult thing to lose, but I went into this competition to win bronze and I didn’t win bronze, I won silver. This is what the electronic board showed. I have mixed emotions about it. If I had lost by a tenth it would be different, but with a hundredth, I will have people saying I won, and that makes me feel good, but I am completely happy."
Mr. Ben Ekumbo, the referee from Kenya spoke on behalf of FINA aboout the protest saying, "Immediately after we got a protest from Serbia, questioning the arrival of their swimmer to be first. Under our rules we do listen to protests and make the review so before we could give an answer to Serbia I personally looked at the video footage from Omega and it is very clear that the Serbia swimmer touched second, it is an issue of stroking; one was stroking, one was gliding. Omega was in perfect condition and perfect order…it provides for the competition at these Olympic games. After watching the video footage we had a meeting with the team leaders…and offered them an opportunity to watch the footage. The rules don't allow for this, but we gave them the opportunity to see for themselves. "
"The Serbian team was satisfied and agree with comments of the referee," said Cornel Marculescu, FINA Executive Director.
Mr. Ekumbo continued, "If you are not happy you have room to appeal to the jury, but they were very happy with the decision we made, and accepted the decision."
Phelps received a standing ovation from the crowd here as his 7th gold was placed around his neck. The swimming world has known that Michael Phelps is the world's greatest swimmer for a long time, but now it is official. "When I took that last stroke I thought I lost the race there, but it turns out that was the difference. I'm just lost for words," said Phelps. "You know when I did take that extra half stroke, I though I'd lost the race. I think that the biggest thing is when someone says you can't do something, it shows that anything is possible when you put your mind to it. I feel a bit of everything: relief, excitement, everything. I had to take my goggles off first to make sure the 1 was next to my name…that's when I sort of let my roar out!"
"Perhaps I was the only person in this competition with the ability to beat Phelps one on one, " said Cavic. "This is a new situation for me, I have never been under this pressure and I am very proud of myself, keeping myself together and my stress level down. It is frightening racing Michael Phelps…and I know a lot of people had money against me…I expected he would go a World Record time. It was a real honor for me to be able to race with Michael Phelps and be in a situation where all eyes were on me as the one person who could do it." In answering whether he thinks he really won the gold he answered, "If we got to do it again, I would win it."
Women's 800 Free Final
From the gun, there was never a doubt that Rebecca Addlington (GBR) would win this race, the only question, as she put more and more space between her and the field, was would she break Janet Evans' record. Here in Beijing to watch the 800, Janet Evans set the record in 1989, and it was the oldest on the books. For every girl and woman out there, training in the distance lane, Evans' is the inspiration for the hours spent staring at the black line. Rebecca Addlington is now the new inspiration.
Out in 4:05.72, Addlington was under record pace throughout, but Evans last 100 was 1:00.78, so she had to be way under heading into the bell lap. She was. And she broke the record of 8:16.22 with her 8:14.10. "I would love to be able to meet her," said Addlington of Evans. "I didn't realize she was here, I would love to meet her."
"It means everything to me," Addlington continued, "and I never knew it was going to be like this. I just got in there and did my best. It's absolutely amazing. I've worked so hard and it's paid off. I knew I could have swum faster but to get the World Record, it certainly paid off. It's so exciting, I absolutely can't believe it. It's amazing to win gold and break the World Record, I can't believe I broke it." Like Phelps she thanked her coach for her success, "I wouldn't be here without Bill [Furniss], I've been with him since I was 12 or 13. I wouldn't have been able to do this without him."
Men's 50 Free Final
Winning Brazil's first Olympic gold in the pool Cesar Cielo (BRA) dove into the record books and sprinted to glory, winning in a new Olympic Record time of 21.30 over 2 Frenchman Amaury Leveax (FRA) in 21.45 and Alain Bernard (FRA) in 21.49.
The big guns, World Record holder Eamon Sullivan (AUS), defending World Champ Ben Wildman-Tobriner (USA) and Olympic bronze medallist from '04 Roland Schoeman (RSA), were all out if finishing in 6th, 5th and 7th respectively.
Cielo's emotions were raw. He pumped his fist then broke into tears. I am a waterworks this morning.
"After yesterday's semi final when I broke the Olympic Record," said Cielo. "I thought I could bring it down further, I spent all day thinking about this, but finally I stopped and was able to sleep well. But it is difficult to have super swimmers around me like these two here…but today was my lucky day, the sun shone for me today."
Women's 50 Free Semi-Finals
In the first semi it was 100 gold medallist Britta Steffen (GER) in 24.43 over Marleen Veldhuis (NED) in 24.46 and Libby Trickett (AUS) in 24.47. In the second semi, Dara Torres (USA) dominated with the fastest swim of the morning: 24.27 over Cate Campbell (AUS) in 24.42 and Yingwen Zhu (CHN) in 24.76.