It’s not enough to be the most talented. Even Michael Jordan, Tiger Woods and Michael Phelps, the three most dominant and clutch performers in the last 20 years, need more.
The 100m Butterfly was far from Phelps’ best event, and Serb Milorad Cavic new it. Whether he was trying to get Phelps off his game or give himself a little publicity, these comments blew up in his face:
“The guy is the best the sport has ever seen, no denying that, the best the Olympics have ever seen,” Cavic said. “But it would be good for the sport if he lost.
“Let’s be honest about that, it’s true. It would be good, and you know it’s good to lose sometimes … I know because I’ve lost a lot. I think it would be good for the sport and good for him if he lost once, just once.
“For him what would it mean I would hope that he would cut down his events for the next year and start training more for the 100 meters fly [to help that event prosper]. There is no doubt in my mind he is the best. Will he be the best here? We don’t know. He’s got a lot on his plate, and hopefully that will work out for me, but never, never ever underestimate Michael Phelps.”
Cavic got that last part right. Of course, he might have won the 100m Butterfly if he had just shut up. Phelps, like Jordan and Woods, has been known to take even the slightest slight and give it new life. For the best athletes, sometimes it takes somebody talking a little junk to get the competitive juices flowing. Especially when you’ve swam roughly 30 races in seven days.
In swims under 200 meters, any edge can bring a win. Phelps beat Cavic today by one hundredth of a second. One hundredth. The difference between Cavic coasting to the wall and Phelps flying towards it like Pete Rose diving through Ray Fosse in the 1970 All-Star Game. The difference between Phelps being content with six Golds and getting and upset with Cavic’s comments.
After Phelps saw his win verified on the scoreboard, he showed how much it meant to prove Cavic wrong when he looked over at Cavic, even splashing in celebration. Afterwards, Phelps mentioned how Cavic’s comments about how beating him would be “good for swimming” fired him up.
All Cavic was trying to do was create a rivalry. He succeeded and failed at the same time.