If you tuned in Sunday evening for “Phelps vs. Shark: The Battle for Ocean Supremacy” on Discovery Channel expecting — or at least hoping — to see Michael Phelps swimming alongside a great white shark, well, you were sorely disappointed. And if you made it through the entire hour-long program, you deserve a gold medal.
The much-hyped “Shark Week” special culminated in 56-degree waters off the coast of South Africa, where Phelps, the 32-year-old Olympic legend, donned a one-millimeter wetsuit and a specially designed mono-fin before attempting to outrace a computer-generated, superimposed great white shark over a distance of 100 meters. The time to beat was 36.1 seconds, which is 10 seconds faster than the world record in the 100-meter men’s freestyle. (Brazil’s César Cielo didn’t have a wet suit or a mono-fin when he set that mark at the 2009 world championships.)
“It’s cold as [expletive],” Phelps said before jumping in the water to prepare for his attempt.
With a seal colony located less than a mile away, the course was under surveillance by a drone and scuba divers to ensure that, win or lose, it wouldn’t be the final swim of Phelps’s life. Phelps was neck-and-neck with the computer-generated shark at the 50-meter mark, but the great white did what fellow South African Chad le Clos couldn’t do at the 2016 Olympics and pulled away in the end. Phelps finished in 38.1 seconds.
While Phelps also took the “L” against a computer-generated hammerhead, the 23-time Olympic gold medalist can take solace in the fact that he is faster than a computer-generated reef shark over a distance of 50 meters.
The show wasn’t a total loss for those who were upset to learn that Phelps wasn’t actually racing sharks. It did provide a completely new Phelps Face. This one says, “Nah, I’m not faster than a shark.”