Not for the first time in Earth’s history, humans have been found wanting.
Mankind’s latest setback came on Sunday after one of the greatest Olympians ever, Michael Phelps, lost a 100m swimming race to a great white shark. To add to the ignominy, the shark wasn’t even real.
The 28-time Olympic medalist was racing as part of the Discovery Channel’s Shark Week. To avoid a celebrity being eaten on live television, the shark was computer-generated, with its time based on the speed of its real-life counterparts through the water. Because humans struggle to reach speeds of more than 5.5mph in the water, while sharks can easily reach 25mph, Phelps was given a little help. He was outfitted with a wetsuit to reduce drag and a monofin as a stand-in for a shark’s hugely powerful tail.
Phelps’s best time over 100m in competition is 47.51sec. With the fin and wetsuit he managed to complete the course in 38.1 but the “shark” came in two seconds faster. “Honestly, the first thought that went through my head when I saw the shark, there’s probably very little chance for me to beat him,” said Phelps.
The Discovery Channel’s title for the show – Phelps vs Shark: Great Gold vs Great White – left some viewers disappointed that a real shark was not featured in the race. “I honestly feel so robbed that I just watched an hour of a stupid show to see Michael Phelps race a FAKE shark. #fakenews,” wrote one viewer, Cole Hill, on Twitter.
“Waited an hour for Michael Phelps to race a CGI shark. Discovery is receiving a strongly worded letter for sure,” wrote another viewer, Jerod Breth.
Phelps had prepared for the race by diving in a cage and coming face-to-face with real sharks. “Being able to get in the water with these guys where I’m literally face-to-face with some of the most majestic creatures you’ve ever seen, that was a treat,” he said. “I was literally within a foot of multiple massive sharks. That, you know, could be scary at times, but for me it was a dream come true.”
Phelps is far from the first athlete to compete against an animal. The Olympic sprinter Jesse Owens ran against horses on a number of occasions while South Africa rugby player Bryan Habana raced a cheetah – and lost – despite a 35m headstart. Golfer Boo Weekley also claims to have been knocked out by an orangutan during a boxing fight, although the story has never been verified.