The best moment of this weekend is the Phelps-Cavic rematch at the World Championships in Rome. It seems like all events are better when they're in Rome - at least we get more shots of the Coliseum and the Pantheon.
Milorad Cavic just doesn't know when to shut up. First he claims that he really won last year's epic race in the Beijing Olympics. When asked what proof he has, he shrugged and said, "I saw it". Really? Look again, Phelps has pressed 4 fingers into the wall (slammed into it actually - ouch!) while you look like you're free-falling the other way. Then Cavic goes on to mock Phelps because of Bob Bowman's assertion that the new swimsuits made by Arena are too much of a performance enhancing advantage. (More on the suits later). Cavic absurdly states that he is even willing to buy Phelps a suit if asked. His point is that he doesn't want Phelps to have any excuses when he beats Phelps in the final. Now in the semis leading up to the final, both men had broken the world record in the 100 meter butterfly with Cavic last holding the record at 50.01.
Obviously, the race is a tale of two halves, just as it was last year. Cavic always jumps out to the early lead and hopes that its enough for Phelp's second half onslaught. Last year it was 0.01 of a second short. In this year's final, as expected, Cavic jumped out to the early lead but Phelps swam a career best first50 meters to stay on Cavic's hip at the turn. According to Cavic and Bowman, they both knew that the slight lead was probably not enough. I thought it was incredible how Phelp's only really made his move in the last 15 meters or so and smashed Cavic's world record and possibly his psyche in 49.82 seconds. Phelp's exuberant and almost angry celebration fittingly included "popping" his "inferior" Speedo swimsuit.
It goes forgotten that Cavic also broke the 50 second mark in this final. Its not like he failed to deliver in the clutch. He just got beat by the greatest swimmer of all time. If Cavic didn't shoot off his mouth this week (and didn't choose to swim for Serbia even though he was born and raised in Anaheim and collegiately competed for Berkeley), I'd would just admire him as a great swimmer who unfortunately lived in the time of Phelps. In the aftermath, Cavic has proposed a 1 v 1 rematch TV event in 2010 since they are not slated to race again until 2011. The problem is that you can't really have a rivalry until both sides have, you know, won before. Phelps really has no reason to consider this proposal especially since he has left us all with a perfect and indelible moment for the years to come.
The rematch buildup, the pre-race trash talking, the controversial Arena and inferior Speedo suits, the in-race strategy (Cavic going out early and Phelps coming from behind) and Phelp's reaction afterward truly made this the race of the year. Unlike so many other hyped sports events, this moment exceeded all expectations.
Now as for the suits, I think swimming has an issue very similiar to baseball. These new swimsuits are so effective that world records have been broken approximately 150 times in the last 18 months alone. These suits are, no doubt, a perfomance enhancer. In many ways, they are worse than steroids since you don't even have to expend effort to make use of its advantages. You simply have to squeeze yourself into one to drop seconds off your time.
The German swimmer, Biedermann, will always get to say that he beat Phelps in a final for the first time in 4 years. He will also admit to beating his own personal best by about 4 seconds. 4 seconds? Nobody drops 4 seconds just like that. These Arena suits practically have propellers in 'em. Phelps did not and should not have complained about the suits since his Speedo suits were the top of the line in technology just last year at the Olympics. But the fact of the matter is that FINA's ban starting in 2010 is 2 years too late. Some suit records will never be beaten. However, at least everyone could legally use them, which means no one won illegitimately. And its an easy fix, unlike baseball.