Finally, a Race That Even Michael Phelps Can't Win
The Olympian reveals why he signed up to race against a great white shark—even though there's no chance he can beat it ...
Michael Phelps isn't accustomed to losing much these days—the Olympic swimmer is known for his impressive collection of gold medals. But he's about to go against an opponent that is basically guaranteed to defeat him: a great white shark. In Phelps vs. Shark: Great White vs. Great Gold, a centerpiece of this year's Shark Week on Discovery, Phelps is about to "race" a shark. And though Phelps isn't giving anything away before the special airs, it's pretty clear that the Olympian has nothing on a great white shark.
But before you get too excited, keep in mind that it's not like the shark and Phelps are in two different lanes in a swimming pool. Sharks don't really get that whole concept, so a great white would probably swim around and look for its next snack instead. Instead, the TV show attempts to get a great white to swim in a straight line for 100 meters, then Phelps swims 100 meters in open water, and then the show compares times. (Discovery is keeping quiet on how exactly they made the race work.)
Phelps says interacting with sharks had been on his bucket list, so signing up for a race was a no-brainer. "My whole life I've been very infatuated with sharks," he tells Esquire.com. "I grew up watching Shark Week, and I was always there glued to the TV. It was always during a time when I was competing." He started his experience by going to "shark school," learning about different species and watching them in their environment. Phelps went to the Bahamas and got to lie on the bottom of the ocean floor, having a nurse shark rest on his leg. He also came face to face with a hammerhead and a great white, and his experience is part of his second Shark Week special, Shark School With Michael Phelps, which airs July 30.
Then came the preparation for the race, which was different than any other swimming experience Phelps ever had. "I was really just preparing myself to be in cold water, and to be in 55 degree water is something that's difficult to prepare for," he says. "And I will say, I am the biggest wuss when it comes to cold water." Though he was not in the same body of water as the shark during the race, it was still a challenge because of the low temperature and low visibility.
Plus, sharks swim way faster than humans—even when that human is Michael Phelps. A great white shark swims at 25 miles per hour, and according to ESPN, Phelps maxes out at six miles per hour. So the Olympic legend is going to get demolished, even though he's wearing a few extra pieces like a "monofin" to help give him a competitive advantage. He told USA Today that he reached about 8 to 10, "maybe 12" miles per hour with the monofin, but that's still not shark speed. Even Ryan Lochte doesn't think his old teammate stands a chance.
"Of course, people are probably going to be blown away," Phelps says. "You see how fast they are and you get why they are on the top of the food chain." And though Phelps isn't used to losing, he's so satisfied with the result of this race that he's even planning to get a shark tattoo. "There's really not much difference between us and sharks," he says. "We all live our day-to-day life and we try to survive, and that's exactly what a shark is doing." His big race airs July 23 at 8 P.M. Eastern and Pacific on Discovery. And hey, maybe he'll surprise us all