Phelps vs. Cavic: A tantalizing rematch in Rome

Aug 1, 2009 - 9:08 AM By PAUL NEWBERRY AP National Writer

ROME(AP) -- Michael Phelps is the tortoise. It takes him a while to get going, but when he finally works up a head of steam - look out!

Milorad Cavic is the hare. He zips away from the starting block like one of those scooters you see all over Rome, then just hopes there's enough left in the tank for the return trip.

It's time again to see which method works best.

The Phelps way produced gold at the Beijing Olympics, though you'll never persuade Cavic he actually touched second. He's been stewing for a rematch in the 100-meter butterfly ever since Phelps pulled out a hundredth-of-a-second win at the Water Cube, ad-libbing an extra stroke to somehow get to the wall ahead of the gliding Serbian.

"They know I'm a player," Cavic said Friday, one day ahead of his rematch with Phelps at the world championships. "They know I've got a great deal of speed."

He gave a tantalizing glimpse of that speed in the semifinals, snatching away Phelps' world record and nearly becoming the first swimmer to break 50 seconds in the event.

But they don't give gold in the semis. The only race that really matters is Saturday night.

"You learn there are moments to be at your best," said Phelps' coach, Bob Bowman.

Cavic set the world record of 50.01 in the semis, while Phelps was perfectly happy with being the second-fastest qualifier at 50.48. That puts them side-by-side in the final.

"I didn't want to go out so fast, but I had so much energy in my body that I couldn't help it," said Cavic, who broke Phelps' world mark of 50.22. "I'm capable of swimming under 50, which would be enough to win the gold."

As for Phelps, "that was exactly what he wanted to do," Bowman said. "He had a lot of energy left and he felt good about it."

If Phelps needs any extra motivation, he can turn to Cavic's own words.

His rival shot down complaints from the Phelps camp about competing in an inferior suit, even offering to buy him one of the polyurethane models responsible for most of the world records at the Foro Italico. The Serbian wears such a suit, the Arena X-Glide, while Phelps has stuck with his year-old Speedo LZR Racer.

"There's three options for Michael," Cavic said. "The first option is to use the suit that he's wearing, the second option is to get one of these (polyurethane) suits, which I guarantee Arena will provide him within the hour, as soon as he wants. The third option would actually be a dream of mine, to have the whole final everybody swimming in briefs. I swear to God, this is it, this is what I want, but this is the most unrealistic of all scenarios."

Phelps' reply?

"I'm wearing this," he said, pointing to his LZR Racer. "If he wants to wear a different suit, he can throw this one on."

Otherwise, Phelps refused to be dragged into any verbal sparring with Cavic.

"I try to keep most comments to myself to fire me up on the inside," Phelps said after a busy night that included winning his third gold medal of the championships, leading off for the Americans in the 800 freestyle relay. "I've had success doing that in the past, and I'm not about to start making comments now. I'll let the swimming do my talking."

Cavic takes a different approach. If there's something on his mind, he'll say it. He doesn't really care who he offends - even the guy who won eight gold medals at the Beijing Olympics.

But he also knows that Phelps is the greatest finisher in swimming.

"Everybody knows Michael Phelps is a back-half swimmer," Cavic said. "He doesn't have a great deal of speed, but he has a way of coming home, and I've got to get out after it. I have to stay in the lead. I've just got to do the best I can. I know he's coming. There's no point to even look, Michael Phelps is right there and he will be there, so just keep the head down and give it all I've got."

Less than an hour after the 100 fly semis, Phelps got the U.S. started on the 35th world record at the Foro Italico, a time of 6 minutes, 58.55 seconds in the 800 free relay - one-hundredth of a second faster than the old mark from Beijing.

Phelps was again no match for Germany's Paul Biedermann, who routed him in the 200 free and put his team more than 1 1/2 seconds ahead on the first leg. But Phelps had the better supporting cast, teaming with Ricky Berens, David Walter and Ryan Lochte to set the sixth world record of the night.

Lochte, turning in an especially gutsy swim after earlier taking bronze in the 200 backstroke, held off Russia's Alexander Sukhorukov with Phelps screaming at him from beside the starting block. When Lochte got there first, Phelps threw up both arms, then leaned over to congratulate his teammate.

All three of them deserved a hand.

"I was kind of carried by my teammates tonight," Phelps said. "I was probably a half-second slower than I wanted to be. But these guys were able to take control. Lochte swam well the last 50. Ricky and David did a good job of putting us in a good spot."

Now, it's time for Phelps to go to work on his own.

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