Michael Phelps lost his race to the great white shark by two seconds. In a 100-meter race, the shark was timed at 36.1 seconds while Phelps came in at 38.1 seconds in a valiant effort. Phelps was clocked at over eight miles per hour at the beginning of the race, but the shark burst through the finish line at the end.
Given the great white was over four times as fast as Phelps, he raced the shark closer than expected. It was not all bad news for Phelps.
As prep for the great white, Phelps raced against a (simulated) hammerhead and reef shark. He was able to defeat the reef shark, but lost to the hammerhead who had a 15 miles per hour burst at the end. Here’s a look at the prep race with both superimposed sharks:
Phelps noted to Jimmy Fallon his top speed is 6 miles per hour while a great white shark can go up to 25 miles per hour. Given the speed disparity, the odds heavily favored the shark winning the race.
Phelps was given a monofin in addition to a wet suit to help make up the difference. The addition of the monofin allowed Phelps to race more than two miles per hour faster at times in the race.
The two did not race at the same time together as it would have been quite dangerous for Phelps to swim right next to a shark. Instead, they raced in the same ocean water for 100 meters. Discovery Channel took the times of both Phelps and the shark to declare the race winner. The shark was superimposed into the water for the race.
In addition to the difference in speed, Phelps also faced the challenge of swimming in a cold ocean as opposed to the warm pool.
“When you have an animal this size, you want to be able to see how fast they swim,” Phelps told ABC. “And it’s tough to be able to go into their territory and swim as fast as they do.”
What Phelps lacked in speed, he hoped to make up for in stamina. While a shark can swim up to 25 miles per hour, they are not able to sustain this speed for long periods of time.
Phelps hoped the shark would lose steam towards the end of the 100 meters to allow him a window to have the better time. Phelps attended shark school to familiarize himself with how to behave in water filled with sharks.