Phelps-Cavic Reconsidered

Science, technology, and life.
Aug. 26 2008 10:56 AM

Phelps-Cavic Reconsidered

Yesterday I asked whether Michael Phelps lost to Milorad Cavic in the 100-meter butterfly final at the Olympics. I took a pretty good pounding in the Fray .

Looks like I deserve it.

William Saletan William Saletan

Will Saletan writes about politics, science, technology, and other stuff for Slate. He’s the author of Bearing Right.

Advertisement

The reason I looked back at Phelps-Cavic this weekend is that Omega finally released its pictures of the finish. Because Omega is the official timekeeper and its pictures had previously been withheld, I attributed great importance to them. And the company's characterization of the pictures as proving Phelps won was total garbage.

As many of you point out, the fact that these pictures prove nothing proves nothing, since we had better pictures from underwater to begin with. I'd seen the underwater shots on TV, but I hadn't looked at them closely on the Web.  Look at the sequence:

A closeup of Cavic's fingers , cropped from the preceding photo (No. 5):

Phelps has clearly touched at this point. Has Cavic touched? His left middle finger is bent back. But if you look at the first of these three photos (No. 4), you can see that the finger is also bent back slightly as he's approaching.

My eye says the finger isn't touching yet. But my eye, as a judge of Olympic photo finishes, sucks. So here are two ways of resolving the question.

1. Do a CSI-style 3-D analysis of photo No. 6, the close-up. See if you can assess the height of Cavic's fingers relative to the cross on the wall. Assuming the fingers are pretty well below the top of the cross, case closed.

2. Calculate the delay between touch and pad compression using the speed of the race. If the speed is fast enough that the delay can't equal one one-hundredth of a second, case closed. There's already a Fray thread pursuing this calculation.

One fascinating thing in underwater photo No. 5: Even if Cavic is touching, you can see that Phelps is touching harder. Theoretically, thanks to the touch pad, that could be enough to win him the race, even if the touches were virtually simultaneous.

TODAY IN SLATE

Politics

The Democrats’ War at Home

How can the president’s party defend itself from the president’s foreign policy blunders?

Congress’ Public Shaming of the Secret Service Was Political Grandstanding at Its Best

Michigan’s Tradition of Football “Toughness” Needs to Go—Starting With Coach Hoke

A Plentiful, Renewable Resource That America Keeps Overlooking

Animal manure.

Windows 8 Was So Bad That Microsoft Will Skip Straight to Windows 10

Politics

Cringing. Ducking. Mumbling.

How GOP candidates react whenever someone brings up reproductive rights or gay marriage.

Building a Better Workplace

You Deserve a Pre-cation

The smartest job perk you’ve never heard of.

Hasbro Is Cracking Down on Scrabble Players Who Turn Its Official Word List Into Popular Apps

Florida State’s New President Is Underqualified and Mistrusted. He Just Might Save the University.

  News & Politics
Politics
Sept. 30 2014 9:33 PM Political Theater With a Purpose Darrell Issa’s public shaming of the head of the Secret Service was congressional grandstanding at its best.
  Business
Moneybox
Oct. 1 2014 8:34 AM Going Private To undertake a massively ambitious energy project, you don’t need the government anymore.
  Life
Gaming
Sept. 30 2014 7:35 PM Who Owns Scrabble’s Word List? Hasbro says the list of playable words belongs to the company. Players beg to differ.
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 30 2014 12:34 PM Parents, Get Your Teenage Daughters the IUD
  Slate Plus
Behind the Scenes
Sept. 30 2014 3:21 PM Meet Jordan Weissmann Five questions with Slate’s senior business and economics correspondent.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Oct. 1 2014 8:46 AM The Vintage eBay Find I Wore to My Sentencing
  Technology
Future Tense
Sept. 30 2014 7:00 PM There’s Going to Be a Live-Action Tetris Movie for Some Reason
  Health & Science
Bad Astronomy
Oct. 1 2014 7:30 AM Say Hello to Our Quasi-Moon, 2014 OL339
  Sports
Sports Nut
Sept. 30 2014 5:54 PM Goodbye, Tough Guy It’s time for Michigan to fire its toughness-obsessed coach, Brady Hoke.