Michael Phelps beat almost everyone on his way to becoming the most decorated Olympic athlete of all time. He didn’t beat everything, though. This Sunday, July 23rd, Phelps will take on the most ferocious competitor in the history of swimming: Carcharodon carcharias, aka, the great white shark.
The 100-meter sprint, which will air on Discovery at 8pm, seems like a mismatch. Great whites can achieve speeds of 25mph or more; Phelps has hit around 6mph, which obviously served him well on his way to 23 gold medals, but is nonetheless 19mph less than 25. The race might be tighter than you think, though. Phelps will wear a monofin, potentially pushing his max speed up to 12mph. He’ll also be motivated, not just by fear of losing -- which seems relatively trivial in this context -- but by fear of his own mortality in the face of nature’s perfect predator.
The shark, on the other hand, might come in cocky, and therefore uninclined to unleash its full athletic prowess. A great white’s cruising speed averages around 2mph, and when it’s prowling for its next meal (not an infrequent activity), it tends to swim deep, with its eyes fixated on the surface -- instead of on the finish line Phelps will focus on when he’s not casting sideways glances at several thousand pounds of cartilaginous death machine. The shark might have millions of years of evolutionary advantage, but does it have the heart of a champion? Or will it end up like the antagonists of so many sports movies -- still disbelieving the upset that’s just occurred, and angrily insisting that it’d win in a rematch, no problem.