Phelps vs. shark show tooth­less

The Hamilton Spectator - - SPORTS -

For nearly 30 years, Shark Week has been a re­li­able way for U.S. cable’s Dis­cov­ery Chan­nel to cre­ate buzz for it­self once a year. The pub­lic’s ap­petite for shark-based pro­gram­ming seems in­ex­haustible. And this year, the chan­nel out­did it­self.

The cen­tre­piece was a match race be­tween Michael Phelps and a great white shark.

Who would win? Would the shark stay in its lane, or head over to take a bite of the 23-time Olympic gold medal­list? “Phelps vs. Shark: Great Gold vs. Great White” seemed to prom­ise to an­swer those ques­tions. An­tic­i­pa­tion was high. But then the race was broad­cast Sun­day night, and the high hopes turned to dis­ap­point­ment. The pro­gram seemed about as re­al­is­tic as a shark­nado.

First off, it wasn’t ex­actly a race. Phelps swam alone, time trial style, in the waters off South Africa.

It also wasn’t ex­actly a shark. When the “race” was shown, Phelps was matched with a com­puter-gen­er­ated im­age of a shark, sup­pos­edly sim­u­lat­ing a real shark’s speed. The “shark” even leapt out of the wa­ter at the fin­ish line for a con­ve­niently spec­tac­u­lar vis­ual.

The show also faced the prob­lem that sharks and peo­ple are not com­pa­ra­ble swim­mers. Not even close. Hu­mans, even su­per­hu­mans like Michael Phelps, swim no faster than six m.p.h. Great white sharks hit 25 m.p.h. Phelps was given a monofin, which let him swim faster than his world-record times. But he still wasn’t go­ing to come any­where near the shark’s top speed. This cer­tainly seemed like a stum­bling block for an in­ter­species race.

Ear­lier in the pro­gram, sci­en­tists lured a shark with a fake seal to time its speed over 100 me­tres in a straight line. Con­ve­niently, the time they came up with was in the range of Phelps’ speed.

“I think we did our best to try to make it as close as we could,” Phelps ac­knowl­edged to En­ter­tain­ment Weekly.

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS FILE PHOTO

Michael Phelps didn’t swim next to a real shark.

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