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Ron Judd's Olympics Insider

Ron Judd, an Olympics junkie and Seattle Times columnist who has covered Olympic sports since 1997, will use this space to serve up news and opinion on the Summer and Winter Games -- also inviting you to chime in on Planet Earth's biggest get-together.

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August 16, 2008 12:43 PM

That Phantastic Phelps Phinish, Phrame by Phrame

Posted by Ron Judd

Much is likely to be said, over many years, about that miracle Phelps Phinish in the 100 butterfly last night. Several closeup underwater photos of the touch are circulating today, each of them telling the story -- or part of it.

The truth is, what you see in swimming is not always what counts. From what I've always been told, a swimmer can glide in and give a feather-weight brush of the wall, and it wouldn't register until proper pressure was applied. That rarely happens. Still, with a soft touch, it might be a fraction of a second between the time the fingertips hit the wall and the timer is actually tripped. Perhaps that was the case with Milo Cavic's slow glide into the finish.

(Swim racers who want to chime in on the sensitivity of the touch pads, please help educate the rest of us. )

Perhaps the most revealing series of photos has been posted by Sports Illustrated, whose photogapher, Heinz Kluetmeier, captured the final second of the race in a frame-by-frame sequence with an underwater camera fired by remote control.

The most amazing of all is frame 4 of 8, which clearly shows Cavic's fingertips only perhaps 4 inches from the wall -- while Phelps is still in midstroke, with his head appearing to be as far as 3 feet away from the wall.

What you can't see from the frames, or appreciate with any still images, is the lightning-quick speed with which Phelps took that last half-stroke, bringing his arms from back and all the way forward again faster than it took Cavic to glide that final few inches.

Kluetmeier's following frame, blown up, appears to show Cavic's fingers still a fraction of an inch away from the wall, while Phelps' right hand is clearly touching.

Any way you look at it: An amazing, instinctive reaction by Phelps, against an opponent who was finishing in textbook fashion.

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Blogroll and links

www.olympic.org: The official International Olympic Committtee site, with news releases, a searchable Olympic medals database and other archival information.
www.nbcolympics.com: Olympic news site from one of the Games' primary sponsors.
NBC Olympics columnist Alan Abrahamson's column/blog
Chicago Tribune Olympic sports writer Philip Hersh's blog
www.usolympicteam.com: U.S. Olympic Committee's athlete web site.
www.aroundtherings.com: Ed and Sheila Hula's Olympic News Service (subscription).
www.wcsn.com: News service with audio, video and text coverage of Olympic sports, during and between Olympics. Free, but charges for live video feed subscriptions.
www.beijing2008.com: Beijing Organizing Committee Web site.
www.vancouver2010.com: Vancouver Organizing Committee's 2010 Winter Games site.
www.london2012.com: London 2012 Summer Games site.
www.sochi2014.com: Sochi, Russia's 2014 Winter Games site.
www.chicago2016.org: Candidate city Chicago's summer 2016 bid committee site.
Olympic swimmer Tara Kirk's highly entertaining WCSN blog
Bellevue Olympian Scott Macartney's WCSN alpine ski-racing blog
Other WCSN Olympic athlete blogs.