ROME (AP) — The latest installment in the Michael Phelps-Milorad Cavic rivalry might not be as thrilling as the last two editions.
Cavic underwent surgery for a herniated disk last July and only began diving off the starting blocks two months ago.
“I don’t think I can realistically try to beat Phelps. I’m not ready, and I’m not in the best shape I’ve been in,” Cavic told The Associated Press after competing in the Seven Hills meet over the weekend.
At the world championships in Shanghai next month, Phelps and Cavic likely will meet in the 100-meter butterfly final July 30.
Cavic, of course, posed the closest threat to Phelps’ record eight gold medals at the 2008 Beijing Olympics.
The American-born Serb lost the 100 butterfly by a mere hundredth of a second, a finish so close that swimming’s governing body had to review the tape down to the 10-thousandth of a second.
The rematch at the 2009 worlds in Rome had plenty of drama, too, with both swimmers trading jabs in the press beforehand. Phelps won with a supposedly inferior swimsuit — and a devastating comeback in the final 50 meters to break the world record set by Cavic in the semifinals a day earlier.
So is Cavic just throwing out more trash talk?
“This is no joke,” he said. “I lost five months. There’s no way to come back from this in a short period. I’ve only been training for six months. I have not raced in two years, and I do not believe myself to be ready this summer. But next summer I think I’ll be competitive.”
At one point last year, Cavic wondered whether he would ever be able to swim again.
“There were days when I couldn’t get out of bed alone. I couldn’t tie my shoe at all, and I could not wipe my leg with my towel after showering,” he said. “It was a very, very bad time in my life, and a lot of time was lost.”
Cavic won the 100 fly in 52.40 seconds Friday, one-hundredth faster than Phelps’ win in Santa Clara, California, the same day.
Perhaps more telling about Cavic’s lack of pure speed now was his third-place finish Sunday in the 50 fly, the event he won at the 2009 worlds.
Phelps acknowledged he had noted Cavic’s 100 time and is still expecting a competitive race in Shanghai.
“The rivalry that we’ve had I think has made it more interesting for the sport,” Phelps said. “He’s somebody that I’m looking forward to getting back in the pool against. It’s going to be a close race. They always are against him.”
And how about Phelps’ recent lack of dominance in small meets?
“You can never underestimate that guy,” Cavic said. “He’s the best. I’m sure he’s changed his lifestyle a little bit, but he deserves it and he can afford that given the kind of swimmer he is.”
So the real Phelps-Cavic III might not come until next year’s London Olympics.
“He can beat Phelps in London,” said Andrea Di Nino, Cavic’s coach. “We’re aiming for a medal in Shanghai, but we’re going to London to win. London is the only race that really counts for us.”
After the London Games, Cavic is planning to retire.
“I’ll be 28,” Cavic said. “I did this sport for 19 years, and I think it’s enough.”
(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)