LONDON — Milorad Cavic is retiring from swimming after the London Games.
Few talk about his departure in the same breath as Michael Phelps, though the Olympians are forever linked because of their fantastic race in Beijing four years ago in the 100-meter butterfly.
Phelps edged the Cal graduate by a thousandth of a second to win his seventh of eight gold medals.
Cavic, a Southern Californian who swims for Serbia, disappeared from the public consciousness soon after that dramatic race.
But his appearance in the 100 butterfly final in London is a testament to the great determination many Olympians possess. While Phelps defended his title Friday night Cavic tied for fourth.
Sure, he wanted another medal. But Cavic wasn't complaining. Most gave him little chance of competing in the London Games much less advancing to the final of his signature event.
In 2010, Cavic underwent surgery to repair a herniated disc in his back. His physicians suggested a world-class swimming career was out of the question. But Cavic loves the sport. He refused to walk away.
"I wanted to get up and keep going and going because I knew what had happened to me," Cavic said. "I don't wish an injury to the back on anybody. It's one of the awful things. I'm one of the few who had the inspiration to come back from that."
Cavic, 28, is one of swimming's more interesting and articulate personalities.
"I like to say our bodies were just not built for what we do," he said. "One of the biggest myths in sports is that elite athletes are living healthy lives. It's the opposite. We're doing more damage than good."
Cavic added that most athletes overdo it because they think they have to keep up with others. "Eventually you're pushing your body more than it can take," he said. "Being competitive is the biggest poison of all."
Despite such knowledge, Cavic kept pushing. He failed to advance out of preliminary heats last year at the World Championships in Shanghai. By May he won the European championships.
Swimming wasn't the only reason Cavic had rallied. He religiously took care of himself with massages and other recovery treatments.
"It was a very expensive, time consuming thing," Cavic said.
Four months before the London Games the swimmer did the unthinkable: he changed coaches. Cavic returned to his former Bears coach Mike Bottom, who now leads the University of Michigan.
Coaches probably didn't matter as much as attitude. Cavic never let his near miss in Beijing bother him.
He says one race doesn't make him Phelps' equal.
"I know I did the best that I could," Cavic said. "I move on with things. The media created this monster thing. He is a rival of mine but he is on another level than me."