Michael Phelps decision to race a great white shark has many fans wondering just how fast Phelps can swim. The short answer is Phelps is fast, but a shark swims much faster. Phelps spoke about the disadvantage on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon.
“Whites [great white sharks] can swim up to 25 miles an hour…[without a monofin Phelps can swim] about six miles an hour,” Phelps told Fallon.
In other words, a shark’s top-end speed is more than four times that of Phelps. To level the playing field, Phelps wore a wet suit along with a monofin, which Phelps wore as the human alternative to a shark’s fin. Here’s a couple photos of the monofin Phelps wore:
Even with the equipment, Phelps is unlikely to be able to swim faster than the shark. Where he may have an advantage is with his stamina. While Phelps does not have the top-end speed of a shark, he is hoping he can maintain a solid speed longer than his competitor. The race length is 100 meters.
To put in perspective how fast a shark can swim, remember that Phelps is one of the fastest swimmers in history who won 23 gold medals over his career. According to the USA Today, Phelps set 39 world records.
As People notes, these records include 100-meter butterfly, 200-meter butterfly, 400-meter individual medley and the 4×100-meter freestyle relay. Despite all these accomplishments, Phelps faced an uphill battle against the shark, and he knew it.
“I knew it was going to be very difficult,” Phelps told Vanity Fair. “For me, being able to prepare myself how I did and mentally get ready to get in that water with a shark—in open water, in their habitat—I think that was something that was obviously different and challenging from what I was used to. . . . I’ve never backed down from a challenge.”
It is important to note Phelps is racing against the time of a shark not physically racing a shark at the same time. Phelps hoped the shark would slow down by the end of the race.