Analysis: Men's 100m Butterfly
Craig Lord
Had a Hollywood mogul come up with the script, the world would have reached for the bucket of sickly-sweet outcomes; in real life the drama was thrilling


Beijing 2008


  • 1. Michael Phelps (USA) 50.58or
  • 2. Milorad Cavic (SRB) 50.59er
  • 3. Andrew Lauterstein (AUS) 51. Commonwealth rec
  • WR splits: 24.04; 50.58
  • ER splits: 23.42; 50.59
  • ComR splits: 23.84; 51.12
  • Fastest field: Beijing 2008 - 50.58 - 51.86


Comparison fields:


  • Melbourne 2007: 50.77 - 52.70
  • Athens 2004: 51.25 - 52.56


Facts going into the race:


  • World record: 50.40 - Ian Crocker (USA), Montreal, 30.7.05
  • Olympic champion: Michael Phelps (USA) 51.25
  • World champion: Phelps, 50.77
Impact of morning finals - what it took to make the semis:
  • Beijing 2008: 50.76 - 52.05
  • Melbourne 2007: 51.44 - 53.10
  • Athens 2004: 52.03 - 53.11


Notes from the race:

Had a Hollywood mogul come up with the script, the world would have reached for the bucket of sickly-sweet outcomes. In real life, winning a 100m butterfly by a controversial 0.01sec to match Mark Spitz and claim a $1m bonus from Speedo rang as true as it was dramatic. Milorad Cavic (SRB) looked destined to go down in history as the man who stopped Superfish. As he swept his hands in for the touch, Phelps had barely cleared the water on his last recovery. But by then, the American was travelling much faster than the Serb and took a snap stroke to close, while Cavic glided in. Phelps's fingertip hit the pad like a nail going through butter, Cavic's hand sloped upwards at an angle. History through the eye of a needle, as it had been when Matt Biondi (USA) glided in and Anthony Nesty (SUR) made history with a snap stroke for victory by 0.01sec in 1988. Biondi fell shy of Spitz. Not Phelps. He had nailed it with a homecoming speed of 26.54 compared with 27.17 for Cavic, who accepted the result in sportsmanlike manner. 

Not so the Serbian Olympic Committee. They protested. The timing by Omega, a sponsor for Phelps, had made a mistake. Ben Ekumbo, the referee from Kenya spoke on behalf of FINA and confirmed that the timing had not failed. The pressure on the pads had recorded the weight of the finish in favour of Phelps. "The Serbian team was satisfied and agree with comments of the referee," said Cornel Marculescu, FINA Executive Director. Conspiracy theories ran wild. The question is: even if Omega wanted to help Phelps - and there is absolutely no suggestion or evidence of that - how on earth would they or could they have done so? By pre-programming? By having a standby manual timer at the ready? Ludicrous. The result flashed up instantly on the scoreboard. The naked eye, the manual hand - nothing could have intervened, is the likely answer to the question at a meet that saw several 0.01sec decisions in favour of one swimmer over another. Phelps received a standing ovation from the crowd here as gold number seven was placed around his neck. Cavic was warmly applauded too - he had no intention of contesting anything. And what a swim from Andrew Lauterstein (AUS) - 51.12, 0.01sec ahead of world record holder Ian Crocker. Odd how no-one thought that odd. Or even cared.

Phelps said: "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. 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!"

Cavic said: "Perhaps I was the only person in this competition with the ability to beat Phelps one on one. 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. I know a lot of people had money against me - I expected he would go a World Record time. It was a real honour 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." 

Cavic on the protest: "If it was up to me, I would drop the protest. 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."

Impact of race on the all-time top 10:


  • 50.40 Crocker, Ian USA 2005
  • 50.58 Phelps, Michael USA BEIJING F
  • 50.59 Cavic, Milorad SRB BEIJING F
  • 51.10 Serdinov, Andriy UKR BEIJING H
  • 51.12 Lauterstein, Andrew AUS BEIJING F
  • 51.14 Dunford, Jason KEN BEIJING H
  • 51.24 Mankoc, Peter SLO BEIJING H
  • 51.50 Fujii, Takuro JPN BEIJING F
  • 51.50 Bousquet, Frederick FRA 2008
  • 51.62 Pini, Ryan PNG BEIJING S

All-time top 10, end 2007:

50.40 Crocker, Ian USA 2005 

  • 50.77 Phelps, Michael USA 2007 

  • 51.36 Serdinov, Andriy UKR 2004 

  • 51.70 Cavic, Milorad SRB 2007 

  • 51.81 Subirats, Albert VEN 2007 

  • 51.81 Klim, Michael AUS 1999 

  • 51.81 Skvortsov, Nikolai RUS 2007 

  • 51.85 Dunford, Jason KEN 2007 

  • 51.88 Rupprath, Thomas GER 2002 

  • 51.90 Ferns, Lyndon RSA 2007 



In 2008, Michael Phelps (USA) became the first man to retain the title and the first to do the double (100m, 200m) at two Games.  Four men have won both the 100m and 200m crowns, American Mark Spitz (1972), Russian Denis Pankratov (RUS) and American Michael Phelps (2004) at the same Games and Michael the "Albatross" Gross (GER) four years apart (1984, 100m; 1988, 200m). Spitz, Gross and Phelps were the only three men to have won three Olympic butterfly medals. Phelps now has four and stands on a pedestal above. The first 100m Olympic crown went to Douglas Russell (USA) in 55.9sec in 1968, 0.5sec ahead of young teammate Mark Spitz. Americans have claimed six Olympic titles (1968; 1972, 1976; 1992, 2004, 2008), with Sweden's two (1980, 2000) next best. Of the 30 medals on offer since 1968, 14 have gone to Americans, with Australia next best on five medals. The 100m is famous for producing the first black Olympic swimming champion, in the form of US-based Surinamese, Anthony Nesty, in 1988. Spitz holds the record for number of world records broken, at seven.


  • Fastest: 50.58: Michael Phelps (USA) 

  • World Record wins: Mark Spitz (USA), 1972; Michael Gross (FRG), 1984; Denis Pankratov (RUS), 1996.

  • Biggest margin: Spitz's 54.27 victory in 1972, the first and only sub 55sec swim at the Games, left him 1.29sec ahead of Bruce Robertson (CAN).

  • Closest shave: Anthony Nesty (SUR) kept Matt Biondi (USA) at bay by 0.01sec in 1988, his 53.00 win an Olympic record that also made him the first black swimmer in history to win an Olympic crown. Phelps matched that 0.01sec slither in Beijing, 2008, when he got the edge over Milorad Cavic (SRB) 50.58 to 50.59.