You’ve heard the hype: 28-time Olympic medalist Michael Phelps versus 0-time Olympic medalist great white shark. Who is faster?
Well, the answer is unequivocally the Great White Shark, as Phelps’ top speed in a pool is just more than 5 miles an hour and great whites can swim up to 25 mph. Buuuuuut what if Phelps were given some advantages to even the playing field, say, a 1-millimeter-thick bodysuit that mimics the skin of the great white, and a special monofin?
That could help. And the opening night of Discovery’s 29th edition of Shark Week featured the 100-meter “race” between the great white and the swimmer considered the greatest of all time in Phelps vs. Shark: Great Gold vs. Great White. We say “race” in quotes because, to the disappointment of some fans on Twitter, not only were Phelps and the shark not side-by-side for obvious safety reasons — and Phelps confirmed that much in his pre-race interviews — the shark was digitally rendered next to Phelps to simulate the showdown after scientists creatively determined the velocity of the shark swimming in a straight line by tempting it with a seal decoy.
Phelps did beat a reef shark and lose to a hammerhead shark in a preliminary 50-meter race in the Bahamas before heading to the much colder waters off South Africa for the big showdown. And what exactly happened there? (Skip the rest of this paragraph and just click on the video if you don’t want to know the results of the final race.) First, the shark was clocked at 36.1 seconds, so Phelps knew what he was up against when he began his end of the race. The monofin definitely raised his game, increasing his normal superhuman speed by a few miles an hour, but it simply wasn’t enough, as he finished in 38.1 seconds, two seconds behind the shark, which still is a lot closer than you probably thought it would be. (The digital match-up revealed that the race was very competitive up until the 25-meter mark when the shark burst ahead and cemented its victory with a speedometer-busting breach at the end.)
Phelps was gracious in defeat, though he did note the chilly waters were an obstacle and “shocked” his body, and he probably should have used a thicker bodysuit to stay warm. And, yes, he’s already up for a rematch. Though probably not against a mako shark, which can reach speeds of 45 to 60 miles per hour.
“You really see the speed that the animal has,” a freezing Phelps said after the race, ” how many different gears they can really switch into when they need to, under any circumstance.”
Check out this part-silly, part-scientific race, above, as well as some behind-the-scenes, how-they-did-that footage below.