The 28 times Olympic medalist even with special shark-like swimming gear, was no match for a great white shark in Discovery’s much-hyped “man versus shark” race that kicked off the network’s annual Shark Week.
The race which was premiered on Sunday night as the main event of Shark Week. And although everyone pretty much knew that Phelps didn’t stand a chance, millions of viewers tuned in to see how it turned out — and many of them live-tweeted the experience.
For all the fanfare surrounding Discovery’s shark stunt, the concept was pretty simple: The network selected a 100-meter stretch of ocean in the Bahamas, had both the great white shark and the 28-time Olympic medalist swim the course, and compared their timed results. Though it was clear from interviews Phelps gave before the race that he wouldn’t actually be in the water with a shark, Discovery didn’t exactly advertise that part.
The network did its best to massively hype the race, including billing it as “the battle for ocean supremacy” and implying that Phelps was going to undergo some state-of-the-art transformations in order to have a chance of at least competing with the shark. Translation? He put on a swimming fin.
Finally, with just minutes to spare as the hour rolled away, the actual race happened. Phelps raced a simulation of the great white shark’s 100-meter swim — and to no one’s surprise, the simulated shark won by 2 seconds, performing a mighty breach as it attacked the decoy seal.
Phelps did an impressive job of keeping pace, however, swimming the stretch of open ocean in just 38.1 seconds to the shark’s 36.1.
Though the anticlimactic, simulated nature of the actual “race” let lots of people down, the real point of Michael Phelps vs great white shark, as is typically the case with most Shark Week programming, was to sneak in some education and awareness-raising about sharks, along with some science. Most of the event featured Phelps learning eyebrow-raising facts about sharks.