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Shark Week 2017: Michael Phelps is racing a great white. Put your money on the shark.

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Left: Amos Nachoun / Barcroft USA / Getty; Right: Carvalho/Brazil Photo Press/LatinContent
Brian Resnick is Vox’s science and health editor, and is the co-creator of Unexplainable, Vox's podcast about unanswered questions in science. Previously, Brian was a reporter at Vox and at National Journal.

On Sunday night, the Discovery Channel is kicking off its annual Shark Week with a truly ridiculous stunt: Michael Phelps is going to race a great white.

Yep. “[Phelps] is our greatest champion to ever get in the water ... but he has one competition left to win,” the Discovery Channel’s promo for the special reads.

Discovery hasn’t released any details about the race itself. But according to Vanity Fair, “the two will each swim 100 meters in the same open water, and their times will be compared.” But not, apparently, at the same time. As Rolling Stone notes, “Phelps made it clear that he and the shark were not in the water at the same time.”

The exact details of the race don’t matter. Because there is no way Phelps can beat a great white shark swimming in an open ocean. No way.

Why Michael Phelps can’t beat a great white shark in a race

Sure, Phelps has 28 Olympic medals. And, yes, he has a freakishly long wingspan of 80 inches (that’s 4 inches longer than his height of 6-foot-4). He is an incredibly strong 194 pounds, and he’s been recorded swimming at 6 miles per hour.

That’s extraordinary for a human. But a great white is just a beast of a competitor in the water.

Great whites typically swim 10 miles per hour, and can top out around 35. They have enough muscle to launch their two-ton bodies clean out of the water.

So. Let’s recap.

Great white shark:

Michael Phelps:


Place your bets.

I sent a quick email to David Shiffman, a shark scientist, to confirm my suspicions that Phelps will lose.

“Is this an entirely ridiculous stunt, or is there something possibly to learn here?” I asked.

Shiffman responded: “If what they're trying to teach is ‘wow, sharks are so fast that even Michael Phelps doesn't even come close,’ that's an interesting way to convey that idea.”

There’s one way — maybe Phelps could win. You try telling a great white shark to swim in a straight line.

(It’s fun to imagine all unrivaled Olympic champions facing off against an animal in retirement. Next up: Usain Bolt versus an ostrich.)

Watch: Why no aquarium has a great white shark

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