BEIJING — Michael Phelps has obliterated swimming records left and right during the 2008 Beijing Games.

He snatched his seventh gold medal by a whisker on Saturday morning, winning the 100-meter butterfly final in stunning fashion by 0.01 seconds.

Phelps completed the race in 50.58 seconds. Serbia’s Milorad Cavic finished it in 50.59 for the silver.

“When I took the last stroke, I thought I lost the race there, but it turns out that was the difference,” a relieved Phelps said. “I’m just lost for words.”

The Serbian Swim Federation formally filed a written protest about the race to FINA, swimming’s world governing body.

FINA officials reviewed the race in slow motion, race referee Ben Ekumbo of Kenya said.

“It was very clear that the Serbian swimmer touched second after Michael Phelps,” Ekumbo said, responding to a reporter’s inquiry about whether the electronic equipment produced conclusive evidence. “It was clear from the video it was a matter of stroking. One was stroking (Phelps) and the other was gliding.”

Phelps tied American swimmer Mark Spitz’s record of seven gold medals in a single Olympiad, which was set at the 1972 Summer Games in Munich.

Phelps called the 0.01 victory “the smallest margin of victory in our sport. It’s pretty cool.”

Now he’ll vie for the record in the men’s 4×100 medley relay final on Sunday, reminding billions that dreams are always possible.

“I think the biggest thing is when someone says you can’t do something, it shows that anything is possible when you put your mind to it,” Phelps said.

Mixed emotions, however, summed up his mood after the 100 fly.

“I feel a bit of everything — relief, excitement, everything,” he admitted. “I had to take my goggles off first to make sure the 1 was next to my name. When I saw the 50.58 and the 50.59, and I saw the 1 next to my name, that’s when I sort of let my roar out.”

Cakic didn’t criticize Serbian officials for filing a protest. He simply focused on the joy of exceeding his expectation in Beijing.

“I saw a replay a few minutes after the race and I heard a few things about a protest, but I’m not thinking about it,” he said. “It’s great to win a medal. I can’t take it off. I know I had a long finish and Phelps had a short finish. I’m not angry.

“If it’s up to me, I would drop the protest,” he said before a few hundred reporters. “I am shocked but I am really happy. . . . This is what the results showed on the electronic board.”

Cakic spoke with conviction and a forthright manner.

“Michael Phelps winning by a hundredth of a second is difficult. It’s the hardest loss,” he said.

Cornel Marculescu, FINA’s executive director, stated emphatically that Serbian officials accepted the final outcome.

“They accepted the decision because it was not done by the eye but by the electronic system,” Marculescu said. “The only question they had was whether Phelps was first by himself or whether it was a dead heat.”

Spitz praises effort

BEIJING (AP) Mark Spitz had one word for the performance that gave Michael Phelps his seventh gold medal of the Beijing Games and equaled his own Olympic record that had stood for 36 years.

“Epic,” Spitz said Saturday morning when reached by telephone in Detroit, where his youngest son was playing in a basketball tournament.

Moments earlier, Phelps came from behind to win the 100-meter butterfly, edging Croatia’s Milorad Cavic by a hundredth of a second.

“It goes to show you that not only is this guy the greatest swimmer of all time and the greatest Olympian of all time, he’s maybe the greatest athlete of all time,” Spitz said. “He’s the greatest racer who ever walked the planet.”

With the victory, the 23-year-old from Baltimore pulled even with Spitz’s seven-gold haul at the 1972 Munich Games. Phelps can break the record in his final race on Sunday, the 400-meter medley relay.

“I’m ecstatic,” Spitz said. “I always wondered what my feelings would be. I feel a tremendous load off my back. Somebody told me years ago you judge one’s character by the company you keep, and I’m just happy to be in the company of Michael Phelps. That’s the bottom line.”

“I’m so proud of what he’s been able to do,” Spitz added.

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