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Serbs fail in protest over Phelps win

August 16, 2008

Michael Phelps and Milorad Cavic at the finishA Serbian protest over the result of the men's 100 metres butterfly final Saturday, when Milorad Cavic was beaten by 0.01 seconds by American Michael Phelps [Images], was rejected by the sport's governing body, FINA.

Phelps clocked 50.58 seconds to beat Cavic on the final stroke and claim his seventh gold medal of the Beijing [Images] Games, equaling Mark Spitz's [Images] 1972 record of golds at a single Olympics [Images].

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 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."

Phelps said he had been oblivious to the tension that followed the Serbian decision to appeal.

- Images: Controversy over Phelps 7th gold

"I had no idea that there was a protest. This is the first word I have heard of it," he said at a media conference.

"The timing system said it all. There hasn't really ever been in an error in the timing system that I have heard of."

Cavic, who had stormed through the area where reporters wait to interview athletes and refused to answer questions immediately following the race, said he was happy with silver and he would have preferred there not to be a protest.

"If it was up to me I would drop the protest, I didn't want to fight it. It's a gold medal, it's difficult to lose but I have to remember my goal here was bronze," he said.

But he said that the timing system may have malfunctioned and asked directly if he considered Phelps to be the gold medalist, Cavic dodged the question.

"If we went through this again, I would win it," he said.


Alexander Popov, former Olympic champion and current member of the IOC's athletes' commission, backed the timing system.

"It's hard to argue with the electronics system. The problem for Milorad was that his touch was too soft. If the race is tight you've got to be hard on the wall," he said.

Ekumbo also said there had been a close examination of the video of the final stage of the race.

"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.

"According to our rules, we used automatic timing system and in this case, it was in perfect condition, in perfect order and there are no doubts it provides for the competition at these Olympic Games.

"After watching the video footage, I met with the Serbian officials and gave them an explanation and offered them an opportunity to see the video themselves. We didn't want them to go to sleep thinking something was lost.

"Of course the timing system is always tested before we use it. (Serbia) were very happy with the decision we made and they accepted the ruling. It wasn't the human eye that made the judgement, it was the timing system."

Photograph: Getty Images

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