Michael Phelps still has a familiar hurdle to overcome

Michael Phelps goes for seven gold medals tonight when he swims the 100-meter butterfly, the only event in which he doesn’t hold the world record. The race is a short one, so any mistake could cost him the win. Throw in the fact that American Ian Crocker is a serious threat and you have the makings for a very interesting race.

But the story doesn’t stop there.

Crocker has held the record since July 26, 2003, when he broke it at the World Championships, and has since lowered the mark twice. Before Crocker, Phelps held the record for one day — his reign lasting from semifinals until finals the next night, when Crocker took the record, and the world title.

Phelps got revenge in Athens, beating Crocker by .04 of a second for his fifth gold medal. That left Crocker with silver to add to his bronze, which he earned earlier in the week when a poor swim on the 4x100m freestyle relay left the favored U.S. team in a disappointing third.

The next day Phelps, having earned a spot on the 4x100m medley relay by winning the 100m fly, announced he would cede his spot to Crocker. Phelps would earn a medal anyway for his butterfly swim in the preliminaries, and gave Crocker, who was the world-record holder and more experienced relay swimmer, the chance to earn gold.

“He was the fastest 100m butterflyer, and I wanted to give him the opportunity to get up and get his gold medal,” Phelps said.

Crocker and his teammates won and, with Phelps shouting from the stands, shattered the world record. After the medal ceremony, in a moment that didn’t go unnoticed, Crocker and Phelps shared a hug as the team walked by.

“It was an opportunity that it’s hard to say thank you for,” Crocker said after the race. “And I just wanted to do it justice by going out and giving it my best shot.”

So, theoretically, if Crocker were to deny Phelps his seventh gold medal by winning the 100-meter butterfly, he could offer up his spot in the 4x100m medley relay and allow Phelps to have a chance to tie Mark Spitz’s record of seven gold medals in one Olympiad.

It would be only fair after what Phelps did for Crocker back in 2004, right? If Crocker wins the butterfly, he’s under no obligation to give up his spot in the relay, but my guess is that he’d be under tremendous pressure to do so.

It has been a storybook Olympics for Phelps, but tonight’s race could be the toughest test he’s faced so far. If Crocker wins, he’ll have his own test to face, a moral one.

Follow the Scores Report editors on Twitter @clevelandteams and @bullzeyedotcom.

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