Michael Phelps Races A Shark, And We Have So Many Questions

by Love Barnett
Originally Published: 
ODD ANDERSEN / Getty Images & Rasmus-Raahauge / iStock

If you’re Michael Phelps, monster Olympian, winner of a bajillion medals (83 total, 66 gold, but who’s counting?), where do you go from there?

Rest? Tour the globe, inspiring children (and pot smokers) everywhere? Become a swimming coach? Teach a high school P.E. class? Un-retire again and shame the Speedos off a whole new crop of competitors?

No. If you’re Michael Phelps, there’s obviously only one more hurdle left to overcome: racing a shark.

In a press release for their upcoming Shark Week, the Discovery Channel lists this for Sunday night’s show: “Phelps vs. Shark: Great Gold vs. Great White. 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. The world’s most decorated athlete takes on the ocean’s most efficient predator: Phelps V Shark — the race is on!”

The Discovery Channel’s Communications CEO David Zaslav announced during a presentation: “Shark Week was very successful for us, but we wanted to take it to another level. When you think about world-class swimmers, I think two things come to mind. Sharks. And Michael Phelps. And Michael Phelps will be part of Shark Week on opening night, where he’ll be aligning with the sharks and we’re going to have a lot of fun with him.”

That tells us very little and leaves so many burning questions! The kids and I have been discussing this sorcery all day, as shark lovers and Phelps fans, and we’ve distilled the most pertinent questions down to these:

1. Did I just read that press release to say “Great White”?

There are other, faster, less dangerous options for a race, you guys. But maybe they picked a great white because it’s not as fast as, say, a mako (Top speed 60 miles per hour. Yeah. Outswim that). While I’d love to see a Phelps vs. Jaws Smackdown, I’m not sure how that would realistically play out either way. A great white can top out at approximately 25 miles per hour. Phelps’s best speed to date is 6 miles per hour. In open water, it’s a no-brainer that Phelps will be losing that race, if not ending up as dinner for one of the oldest and most efficient super-predators on the planet. As my son says, “This dude’s going to end up shredded like cut bait.” Indeed, little dude. Indeed.

2. Will the winner get to eat the loser?

What’s the prize here? Are they going to throw out chum and Funyuns at the finish line to entice our two competitors? I mean…Bruce doesn’t need a trophy or a medal. He just wants dinner. Come to think of it, Phelps doesn’t need another trophy either. Assuming he wins, he would just add another feather to his hat, chilling in the eternal self-awareness of being a badass.

3. What will the odds be on this race?

Whom do I get in contact with to place my bet? I have some spare change rattling around in the kids’ piggy banks, and it’s a long time until football season.

4. I’ve seen his Instagram where he posted about being in a shark cage getting marked off his bucket list, but has the man never seen Jaws, or any other movie with a shark in it?

Discovery also has this listed for the last day of Shark Week: “Michael Phelps joins Doc Gruber and Tristan Guttridge of the Bimini Shark Lab to get a crash course on everything ‘shark.’ They’ll dispel the myths and common misconceptions, teach him how to safely dive with sharks — including how to stay calm when a hammerhead swims two feet above his face — and will get Michael Phelps up close and personal with the incredible power of a great white.” And I’m just over here thinking that I hope this class is actually filmed before the race if we want our Olympian to survive. Otherwise, we’re going to need a bigger boat.

5. Where and how could this even happen?

Jazz Shaw writing for Hot Air says, “[H]ow does this work? Anything in the open ocean is going to involve a lot of infrastructure to keep Phelps safe. But it’s not going to be in a pool, right? No Great White has ever survived in captivity longer than five weeks. They just die if you put them in a tank. And even if you have somehow temporarily snagged one in a cage, how do you plan to convince it to swim your ‘course’ against Phelps at its best speed? A more amusing possibility (well…at least to me, anyway) is parking two boats 100 yards apart, chumming the water until a sizable Great White shows up, then just push Phelps into the water and yell, ‘Good luck!’ If he makes it to the other boat in one piece I’m willing to declare him the winner.”

On the level, I think this is a clever marketing ploy to interest more viewers in Discovery’s Shark Week. (I’m not sure why we need to do that, because hellllloo? Shark Week.) It’s more than likely to be a computer-generated race, full of data and statistics and CGI, rather than an actual in-the-water head-to-head event. How could it be otherwise, really? It’s not like sharks would respect lane lines or care that you were using a butterfly stroke while they’re freestyling.

Make a note right now to set your DVR. The race will air on Sunday, July 23 at 7:00 p.m. ET/PT.

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