Who is faster — a world-record-holding human swimmer who’s the greatest Olympian of all time, or a really big fish? The eternal question no one was asking was finally answered on Sunday night as part of Discovery Channel’s Shark Week. The much-teased showdown Phelps vs. Shark: Great Gold vs. Great White kicked off the network’s signature midsummer programming with a competition result that should not surprise anyone who knows anything about great whites, or has even seen Jaws. Spoilers ahead.
Michael Phelps is not faster than the world’s most feared shark. While great whites have been recorded going as fast as 26 miles per hour off the coast of South Africa, Phelps’s record is closer to 6 miles per hour. Yet, since sharks can’t swim as fast over long distances, Discovery put the competitors on more even ground by setting the length at 100 meters. Phelps also wore a monofin to stimulate a shark’s movement and increase his speed. Ultimately, Phelps swam 100 meters in 38.1 seconds, two seconds slower than the great white’s 36.1. The race itself required recording the competitors’ times separately, since Phelps couldn’t count on the shark to stay in his lane, but there was a CGI shark shown on-screen for the viewers at home. Still, one has to wonder if Phelps would have kicked a little faster if he had a non-cartoon challenger on his tail.