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.


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.


Medical Examiner

The Most Terrifying Thing About Ebola 

The disease threatens humanity by preying on humanity.

I Bought the Huge iPhone. I’m Already Thinking of Returning It.

Scotland Is Just the Beginning. Expect More Political Earthquakes in Europe.

Students Aren’t Going to College Football Games as Much Anymore

And schools are getting worried.

Global Marches Demand Action on Climate Change


Blacks Don’t Have a Corporal Punishment Problem

Americans do. But when blacks exhibit the same behaviors as others, it becomes part of a greater black pathology. 

Why a Sketch of Chelsea Manning Is Stirring Up Controversy

How Worried Should Poland, the Baltic States, and Georgia Be About a Russian Invasion?

Sept. 19 2014 1:11 PM Americans' Inexplicable Aversion to the 1990s
  News & Politics
Sept. 20 2014 11:13 AM -30-
Business Insider
Sept. 20 2014 6:30 AM The Man Making Bill Gates Richer
Sept. 20 2014 7:27 AM How Do Plants Grow Aboard the International Space Station?
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 19 2014 4:58 PM Steubenville Gets the Lifetime Treatment (And a Cheerleader Erupts Into Flames)
  Slate Plus
Tv Club
Sept. 21 2014 1:15 PM The Slate Doctor Who Podcast: Episode 5  A spoiler-filled discussion of "Time Heist."
Brow Beat
Sept. 21 2014 2:00 PM Colin Farrell Will Star in True Detective’s Second Season
Future Tense
Sept. 19 2014 6:31 PM The One Big Problem With the Enormous New iPhone
  Health & Science
Bad Astronomy
Sept. 21 2014 8:00 AM An Astronaut’s Guided Video Tour of Earth
Sports Nut
Sept. 18 2014 11:42 AM Grandmaster Clash One of the most amazing feats in chess history just happened, and no one noticed.