Michael Phelps vs. a shark: Viewers fall for great white hype (and aren’t happy about it)
Cheetahs are the fastest land animals over short distances, capable of running up to 64.8 mph. How does Michael Phelps stack up? (July 24, 2017)
Michael Phelps did not race against a great white shark.
Even though the heavily promoted show that aired Sunday night on the Discovery Channel was called “Phelps vs. Shark: Great Gold vs. Great White,” that’s not what really happened.
Turns out, the 28-time Olympic medalist raced against a simulated shark — and lost.
That is almost certainly what would have happened if Phelps actually had raced against a great white shark, which can move at speeds of 25 to 35 mph in attack mode. Phelps was once clocked by ESPN swimming at 6 mph.
But we already knew all that factual stuff — anyone could figure it out with a Google search or two. We wanted to see how things would turn out on Game Day, when anything can happen. Maybe the shark wouldn’t be in attack mode at all. Maybe Phelps’ special monofin wetsuit would give him the edge he needed.
Maybe the creature would crack under the pressure of facing the world’s fastest human. Maybe the show’s producers unknowingly would have chosen the world’s slowest shark. At least there would be an element of suspense (although we’d expect every precaution to be taken to ensure the safety of Phelps and everyone else).
But that’s not what we got. Instead, it was just Phelps swimming by himself in the open water — and doing so two seconds slower than scientists determined the shark would have done it.
Of course, they made it look much cooler than that for TV.
And Phelps tried to help the effort by calling for a rematch immediately after the show aired.
Phelps had actually said in interviews leading up to the broadcast that he had no intention of entering the open water with a shark. But viewers who had only seen the ads for the show or just tuned in based on the name of the program weren’t informed of what was really going to take place until 57 minutes in.
Needless to say, a lot of those folks weren’t happy.
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