In the great tradition of celebrating everything about sharks, the Discovery Channel has had Michael Phelps “race” a great white shark in celebration of the network’s 29th edition of Shark Week.
“39 world records. 23 Olympic golds. But he has one competition left to win,” states the Discovery Channel’s press release via Rolling Stone. “An event so monumental no one has ever attempted it before. The world’s most decorated athlete takes on the ocean’s most efficient predator.”
Well, the moment finally came: Michael Phelps took on a great white shark…sort of.
The “race” wasn’t actually between the Olympic swimmer and a real shark because, well, that would have been hella dangerous. Rather, as Entertainment Weekly have reported, the shark was recreated using computer animation and some rather clever science.
For the race, the shark was digitally rendered next to Phelps, with scientists figuring out exactly how fast the shark would be swimming in a straight line if it was being tempted by a seal decoy (yes, really).
While a great white shark can swim up to 25 mph, Michael Phelps’s top speed falls somewhere around 5mph. So, to make things a little more even, the swimmer was given a 1-millimeter-thick bodysuit that mimics the skin of the shark, as well as a special monofin to help propel him along.
Unfortunately, despite besting a reef shark and losing to a hammerhead shark in the preliminary rounds in the Bahamas, against the great white shark, even Michael Phelps came in second. Beating the Olympic swimmer by two seconds (!), the shark won the race, clocking in at 36.1 seconds.
Phelps was pretty gracious about his loss, but did cite the cold waters off of South Africa where the race took place as adding an extra layer of difficulty to the proceedings. More than anything, though, he was impressed with just how fast the shark was.
“You really see the speed that the animal has,” he said after the race, “how many different gears they can really switch into when they need to, under any circumstance.”
Even though he lost, Phelps is totally ready for round two.
Shark Week continues on the Discovery Channel.