Michael Phelps raced a shark for Shark Week, we're not kidding

2017-07-23 00:00
Michael Phelps vs Shark: The race is on!

Phelps vs Shark: Great Gold vs Great White

Discovery Channel (DStv channel 121)

Monday July 24, 22:00.

Some things are simply unthinkable – like willingly swimming with sharks. That is, unless you’re Olympic swimmer Michael Phelps.

“For me, being able to have the opportunity to get into the water with sharks is something I always wanted to do. So, this is something that’s a dream come true,” he tells #Trending on the phone.

I’ve got to say that Phelps, who calls himself a “shark nerd”, is on his own with that one!

The swimmer is racing the fish as part of Discovery Channel’s longest-running and eagerly awaited winter TV event – Shark Week. Celebrating its 29th anniversary this year, for the first time Shark Week will premiere around the world in the same week, delivering shark stories that use innovative research technology and give viewers compelling insight into some of the most unique shark species in the world.

“I think, going into it, I was prepared that it was going to be the safest possible situation,” he says. Phelps had 15 divers underneath him during the race, which took place off the coast of Cape Town. “When you see the video of me in the water with the shark during the race, the shark and I weren’t side by side racing – we didn’t have a shark in the pool. You can’t put sharks in a swimming pool, it wouldn’t be very good for them. I don’t think they’d last long in chlorine.”

Phelps says viewers will be able to see how focused he was while trying to prepare himself to face something that he truly dislikes – cold water.

“55°F (12°C) and 80°F (26°C) are so different. And I’m somebody who really doesn’t like cold water. So, I think that was the most difficult part for me, but it was an awesome experience.” Phelps says he felt at ease during the race. “We set up a swimming lane that I was swimming in, and with the amount of research and stuff that has been done about sharks, we tried to see how fast they would swim in a straight line.”

He says that he had to learn how to stay calm in the water, what to do and not to do. “Learning from the basics and getting to the point where I’m basically face to face with the Great White in a cage, and then eventually swimming with a shark, to see what top speed they have; being able to just see how they are in their own element, I think was the true treat for me.”

During Shark Week, on Sunday July 30 at 10pm, Phelps also joins Doc Gruber and Tristan Guttridge of the Bimini Shark Lab to get a crash course on everything shark related. The two are trying to dispel the myths and common misconceptions we have of sharks, while Phelps gets schooled on how to safely dive with sharks – including how to stay calm when a hammerhead swims 60cm above his face.

The 32-year-old, who retired last year, says he still swims from time to time, but nothing too extensive. “You know, I swim maybe a mile or so a week and that’s just for my own peace of mind and to kind of escape from everything that we have going on.”

Phelps says mentally preparing himself for this race was the biggest task. “Obviously it’s very different from swimming in a swimming pool. Open-water swimming and pool swimming are extremely opposite. So, just kind of understanding a little bit about how the waves move in certain directions and how you get from point A to point B; after a week to two weeks in open water with sharks, I guess I just picked up on certain little things throughout the process.”

Watch the race here:

Shark Week runs on Discovery Channel (DStv 121) until Sunday 30 July.

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