Maybe it was the weight of those Olympic medals. Or maybe it was the fact that he's human.
Michael Phelps took on a great white shark for Discovery Channel's Shark Week special Phelps vs Shark: Great Gold vs Great White and let's just say he does better when he's chasing gold. But it wasn't the result of the race that had fans up in arms, it was the fact that Phelps wasn't actually racing a real-life shark.
"Clearly, we can't put Michael in one lane and a shark in the far lane. We have to do simulation," Dr. Tristan Guttridge, one of the scientists on the special, said. "We'll use our speed data that we've (collected) in all our testing."
According to The Hollywood Reporter, the Discovery Channel team had Phelps swimming off the Bimini coast in a specially designed suit that came complete with a fin (exact name: monofin) to help him achieve as much power as possible, not to mention make him something akin to a real-life merman.
Even though promotional material for the show clearly stated that Phelps would not be going fin-to-fin against real sharks, viewers were expecting him to swim alongside a shark. Instead, they got a CGI simulation that mimicked data that researchers gathered from actual hammerhead, reef, and great white sharks. A computer simulation gave viewers all the action, pitting the underwater predators and the Olympian against each other with a 50-meter race.
"Honestly, my first thought when I saw the shark was, 'There's very little chance for me to beat him,'" Phelps said during the show.
Honestly, all viewers wanted to see was Phelps swim alongside a shark.
In the end, Phelps only managed to best the reef shark by 0.2 seconds. Both the hammerhead and great white out-swam the Olympic record-breaker. When the distance was extended to 100 meters, giving Phelps an advantage over the sharks, he still fell short.
Blame the cold water (swimming pools are at a comfortable 80 degrees compared the ocean's 56), sharks' natural predilection to swimming, or the simple fact that they're sharks, but Phelps has no hard feelings.
"They don't want to eat us. They're not trying to kill us and trying to hurt us," Phelps said after the races. "They're out there surviving just like we are on land. Hopefully, with some of the lessons that I've learned and the do's and don'ts in the shark world, hopefully people can learn and hopefully people can be able to swim free with the sharks."
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