The great ones do their best work when the odds are stacked against them. And the odds were certainly stacked against Michael Phelps today in a 100-meter butterfly rematch with Milorad Cavic at the World Swimming Championships.
Phelps was more fatigued, had spent less time training, isn't a butterfly specialist and, most importantly, was wearing a vastly inferior suit. None of it mattered. Michael Phelps stormed from behind in the final 25 meters to nip Cavic again at the wall, winning his fourth gold at the championships and defending his title as the world's fastest butterflier. It wasn't as thrilling as the race in Beijing, but it was still pretty darn exciting.
Cavic had spent weeks talking up this race, telling anyone who would listen that he actually beat Phelps in Beijing and that the 14-time Olympic gold medalist was beatable. He made a fuss about the swimsuits, even though he was the one wearing the polyurethane-based one that has been a part of more than 30 world records so far at this meet.
Phelps, on the other hand, left his talking for the pool. While clearly miffed at having to wear the Speedo LZR, Phelps stayed silent (even if his coach, Bob Bowman, didn't) until he touched the wall first and defiantly popped out the Speedo logo. He won with relative ease after touching behind Cavic (as expected) at the first 50 and celebrated as much as he did after any of his Olympic victories.
To his credit, Cavic handled the loss with class. He flashed a simple smile after touching in the second-fastest 100m butterfly time ever, almost as if to say, "I should have known better."
Nothing Phelps can do in the pool will ever top his eight golds from Beijing, but the victory today comes remarkably close. Against a rested rival who had spent the last 352 days preparing for those 50 seconds and was wearing a soon-to-be-illegal suit, Phelps showed again why he is the greatest Olympic athlete who ever lived.