Event: 100-meter butterfly
When: 10:10 p.m. ET
At stake: Tying Mark Spitz with seven gold medals in a single Olympics
What you need to know: Phelps is the favorite, but this is his toughest individual event, by far
Analysis: This is it. Barring a catastrophic disqualification in tomorrow's medley relay, the 100m fly is the final remaining hurdle in Michael Phelps' quest for Olympic immortality. If Phelps touches the wall first this morning in Beijing, he's all but assured of finishing these Games with a staggering eight gold medals. But that won't be as easy as you might expect.
Before the Olmpics, the 200 and 400 IM were hyped as possible speedbumps for Phelps. That talk was preposterous as Phelps hadn't lost those races since 2002. In the last four international major meets Phelps has lost the 100m butterfly twice, both times to teammate Ian Crocker.
In Athens, Crocker had a lead on Phelps in this event for 99 meters but lost on what Dan Hicks called 'a miracle touch' by Phelps. The same thing happened at the '07 World Championships. Crocker bested Phelps at the '03 and '05 Worlds, but Crocker's poor 2008 has tempered expectations of another victory in Beijing. Michael Phelps' times in both the prelims and semis were faster than anything Crocker has posted this year.
There are two major factors on Crocker's side though. First, the 100 fly is the shortest individual race Phelps will swim in the Olympics. In the longer distances, Phelps' skills and stamina make him almost impossible to beat. But a two-lap race is different, as a bad start or a jammed turn can be the difference between gold and silver. There's no margin for error.
Secondly, Crocker and the other main contender (Serbian Milorad Cavic) have swum three races thus far at the Olympics compared to 15 for Phelps. They'll have freshness on their side.
Last week in this space, Fourth-Place Medal projected that Crocker would beat Phelps in the 100m fly. But, that prediction was made under the presumption that Phelps' quest for eight would have already been derailed by Alain Bernard and the French. With Mark Spitz so close in Phelps' sights, we predict that Phelps will get his 7th gold this morning. Barely.
Forget about tomorrow night; this is the Phelps race you need to see. Make sure you're in front a TV at 10:10 ET.
Prediction: Gold: Phelps (USA); Silver: Cavic (SER); Bronze: Crocker (USA)