Man vs. Jaws In Race To The Finish

Man has been pitted against beast in all kinds of races over the years. There’s been man vs. horses. Man vs. dogs. Man vs. cheetahs. America’s 1936 Summer Olympics gold winner Jesse Owens even raced a train late in his career, after he was beat out by racing horse in Cuba.

Flash forward 80 years, and another gold medalist — namely Michael Phelps — is taking on an animal competitor that no other human has challenged in the past: a shark!

Michael Phelps vs. Great White

It goes without saying, Phelps is one of the fastest human on the planet. But is pitting him against a life-form that lives its life in the water, putting him on equal footing? To address that challenge, on July 23, the Discovery Channel kicks off its annual Shark Week programming with a competition unlike any other, when Phelps takes on a great white.

That’s right! “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.The network hasn’t released any details about the race itself, but one report notes: “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.”

Odds favor he who was born with fins . . .

While Phelps has noted he will be wearing a ‘monofin” for the race, scientists have already gone public that they are not betting on the competitor wearing the speedo. Dr. Marianne Porter of Florida Atlantic University’s Biological Sciences department reported that big sharks have been clocked at 20 MPH.

Phelps admittedly told USA TODAY Sports that his fastest race speed was about five to six miles per hour and that the monofin may boost him up to “8 to 10, maybe 12" —  making that 20 MPH almost an impossibility.

So the smart money appears to be on the shark.

What motivates the shark to race?

On the other hand, might this be a non-starter if the shark refuses to race, or decides not to move in a straight line?  Porter answers this by suggesting motivating factors. “Sharks are pretty smart and they learn really well,” She added: “If they’re exposed to a stimulus, in a very short amount of time, they can figure out what they’re supposed to do for that stimulus.”

So what’s the stimulus for this great white to beat an Olympic medalist? Take a guess: Something that tantalizes the senses, perhaps?

“If you wanted to motivate it so it thought it was racing,” Porter added, “you might be able to do it with something that looks or smells delicious.”

Let’s just hope those tasty morsels are not a 6’4” lanky Olympic Swimmer, eh?

Ladies & Gentlemen . . . erh, Man & Beast, start your engines, please!

UPDATE | RESULTS ARE IN:  The race finished at 9:05 EST, on July 23. Phelps was able to swim 100 meters off South Africa in 38.1 seconds -- but the shark won with a time of 36.1 seconds. There's no report today as to the 'miles per hour' achieved by each contestant, but if there was only a 2 second differential in time, it appears that the shark didn't achieve 20 mph, or Phelps exceeded his potential 12 mph with the monophin? Will keep you posted on that data, as it becomes official.