THE MARGIN of victory could hardly have been slimmer. Ten years ago, on Aug. 16, 2008, Michael Phelps (above) of the U.S. outtouched Milorad Cavic of Serbia in the men's 100-meter butterfly final at the Beijing Olympics in a thrilling finish that was so close it seemed to leave the winner in doubt. That is, until a photo by SI's Heinz Kluetmeier and his assistant, Jeff Kavanaugh, surfaced.
A pioneer in underwater photography, Kluetmeier was the first to shoot a competitive race from the bottom of the pool (at the 1991 world championships in Perth). At the Water Cube, in 2008, knowing Phelps might be vulnerable at 100 meters, Kluetmeier staked out a spot under the middle lanes days before the race. He directed Kavanaugh—who estimates he used up an entire tank of oxygen—to adjust the camera by millimeters to ensure that the wall and both finishers would be in focus. Then came the fateful finish. Firing at eight frames per second, there was still no guarantee he'd capture the winning margin of .01 seconds. But when Kluetmeier saw the last shot in the sequence that proved Phelps had won his seventh gold of the Games, the photographer was elated. "It was an improbable finish—and an improbable photo," he says.
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