With 23 Olympic gold medals under his belt, U.S. swimmer Michael Phelps is no slouch when it comes to swimming at great speeds — but can he swim faster than a Great White shark?
That’s what TV viewers will find out during this year’s Shark Week when the Discovery channel unveils its annual shark-themed week of programming, with Phelps and an as-yet-identified finned friend to face off in a new special, “Phelps vs. Shark: Great Gold vs. Great White”.
In its announcement, Discovery hypes the sure-to-be-epic swim meet. “They are one of the fastest and most efficient predators on the planet: Sharks. He is our greatest champion to ever get in the water: Michael Phelps. 39 world records. 23 Olympic golds. But he has one competition left to win. An event so monumental no one has ever attempted it before,” notes the Discovery release, adding: “The world’s most decorated athlete takes on the ocean’s most efficient predator: Phelps v. Shark – the race is on!”
Phelps recently talked to EW about the upcoming shark race. “The first thing that came to my mind is I wanted to make sure the safety aspect of it was there. That was the only way I was going to do it,” the celebrated Olympian said about his first reaction to Discovery’s offer. “And it was there. Being able to have the amount of divers that we were able to have in the water and knowing that I was safe was the biggest thing.”
He continued: “But obviously, it’s an opportunity that you don’t get very often — to race a Great White. So I said for sure I would do it.”
On the topic of the research he did to prepare for the race, Phelps said: “It’s hard for me to race something that has the speed that they have, and how fast they can turn on a dime is something that’s truly incredible, especially with the size of these animals. I got in and did my best, and you guys are going to have to see what the outcome is.”
When it came to recreating the environment to make a fair competition, the swimmer told EW: “The only thing I can say is we weren’t in a pool. We were in open water. We were very safe. We had about 15 safety divers around. For me, the biggest thing was just trying to stay warm; that was something that was extremely challenging, just because the water is 55 degrees. It’s something that a shark can survive in, and a human really can’t survive in water like that.”
As The Hollywood Reporter points out, Phelps will have his work cut out for him. “For those wondering, Great Whites clock in at an impressive 25 mph in open water while Phelps, one of the most elite athletes on the planet, averages between 5.25-6 mph.”
We’ll find out how the most decorated athlete in Olympic history will fare against the fearsome ocean predator during Shark Week, which airs from July 23-30.
In the meantime, Phelps has apparently been preparing with some shark-related training, including taking an underwater dive among some Great Whites from within a shark cage: