BEIJING — With history hanging in the balance, Michael Phelps decided to take one more stroke. His long arms soared above the water, windmilled past his ears and slammed into the wall.
In the next lane, Milorad Cavic was gliding to the finish, just inches from the gold, his arms no longer driving but just reaching for the end.
That's all Phelps needed. He didn't have to be the fastest. Just first.
Phelps swam into history with a magnificent finish Saturday, tying Mark Spitz with his seventh gold medal by the narrowest of margins in the 100-meter butterfly.
He got his hands on the wall a hundredth of a second ahead of Cavic — a finish so close the Serbians filed a protest and swimming's governing body had to review the tape down to the 10-thousandth of a second.
"I had no idea,” Phelps said. "I was starting to hurt a little bit with probably the last 10 meters. That was my last individual race, so I was just trying to finish as strong as I could.”
Phelps' time was 50.58 seconds, the only time in these Olympics that he won without breaking the world mark.
Not to worry. The 23-year-old from Baltimore has now pulled even with the greatest of Olympic records, matching Spitz's performance in the 1972 Munich Games.
Call this one the Great Haul of China — and it's not done yet.
Phelps will return on Sunday (Saturday night, Oklahoma time) to swim in his final event of these games, taking the butterfly leg of the 400 medley relay. The Americans will be heavily favored to give him his eighth gold, leaving Spitz behind.
Phelps pounded his fist in the water and let out a scream after the astonishing finish. The crowd at the Water Cube gasped — it looked as though Cavic had won — then roared when the "1” popped up beside the American's name.
Cavic's time was 50.59.
The Serbian delegation filed a protest, but conceded Phelps won after reviewing the tape provided by FINA, swimming's governing body. USA Swimming spokesman Jamie Olson said the tape was slowed to one frame every 10-thousandth of a second to make sure Phelps touched first.
It was impossible to tell on regular-speed replays.