Here's what happened when Michael Phelps raced a Great White Shark

Retired competitive swimmer Michael Phelps, the most decorated Olympian of all time with a total of 28 medals, took on a great white shark in a Discovery Channel special on Sunday night.

Did he win?

Phelps vs Shark: Great Gold vs Great White, which helped kick off Discovery Channel's Shark Week programming, found Phelps and a group of scientists working to record the speed of, first, a hammerhead shark and then a great white shark.

"This is something I've been wanting to do for a while," Phelps said of his interest in taking on the challenge.

RELATED: A look at Michael Phelps' career highlights

Michael Phelps career highlights
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Michael Phelps career highlights

Phelps started swimming when he was 7, and by the time he was 10 he was setting American age-group records. Many of those records from Phelps’ youth still stand.

Photo Credit: Youtube 

Phelps qualified for the Sydney Olympics at just 15, becoming the youngest American swimmer in 68 years to qualify for the Olympics.

Photo Credit: Getty 

Source: BBC

In Sydney, he made the final of the 200-meter butterfly and finished fifth.

Photo Credit: Ross Kinnaird /Allsport

Source: BBC

In 2001, Phelps set his first world record, in the 200-meter butterfly at the World Championship Trials. At just 15 years and 9 months, Phelps became the youngest swimmer to ever set a new world record.

Photo Credit: Reuters

Source: SwimSwam

At the ensuing World Championships in Japan, Phelps broke his own world record in the 200-meter fly to win his first world championship.

Photo Credit: NickWilson/ALLSPORT

Source: SwimSwam

But it was the 2004 Olympics in Athens that really introduced Phelps onto the larger world athletic stage. In Athens, Phelps won eight medals, including six gold. He was 19.

 (Photo credit should read PIERRE-PHILIPPE MARCOU/AFP/Getty Images)

Source: BBC

Phelps then won an Olympic record eight gold medals in eight events at the Beijing Olympics in 2008. In the 200-meter butterfly, he beat Laszlo Cseh by seven-tenths of a second. During the race, his goggles filled with water and he couldn't see anything for the final 100 meters.

 REUTERS/David Gray 

Source: ESPN

In the 100-meter butterfly, Phelps beat Milorad Cavic by one one-hundredth of a second in arguably the most famous swim race ever. Cavic appealed the decision, but Phelps’ gold medal was upheld.

 (Photo by Adam Pretty/Getty Images)

Source: ESPN

London was supposed to be Phelps' final act, but it was something of a disappointment. Losing to Chad Le Clos in the 200-meter butterfly, usually Phelp's best event, was especially tough.

Photo Credit: Reuters 

Source: WSJ

Still, Phelps picked up four more golds and two silvers in London, making him the most successful swimmer at the 2012 Olympics. After the Olympics, he announced his retirement.

REUTERS/Toby Melville 

Source: WSJ

It hasn't been all gold medals and world records for Phelps, though. There's been no shortage of controversies and low points, too. In 2004 Phelps was arrested for a DUI at 19. In 2009, a picture floated of Phelps smoking a bong, which resulted in a suspension from USA swimming and the loss of some endorsements.

Photo Credit: CBS News

Source: USA Today

After Phelps retired, he said later, he felt suicidal, and has since called 2014 his rock bottom. He eventually entered a rehab facility in Arizona.

Photo Credit: Bob Stanton-USA TODAY Sports

Source: USA Today

Phelps has been coached by Bob Bowman since he was 10, including at the University of Michigan. Their relationship has often been a challenging one, which Phelps has said had to do with his fractured relationship with his father, who left when Phelps was a child.

(Photo by Jean-Yves Ahern/Icon SMI/Icon Sport Media via Getty Images)

Source: ESPN

Bowman and Phelps have often butted heads. Bowman, famously, used to step on Phelps’ goggles before races and practices in order to make him ready for anything, and they reportedly would often scream at each other on the pool deck, or not speak for days.

 (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)

Source: ESPN

But Phelps and Bowman are in a good place now, Phelps said. When he and his then-fiancée, former Miss California Nicole Johnson, had a son in May, 2016, they named it Boomer Robert Phelps. The middle name was a dedication to Bowman.

(Photo by Chris Coduto/Getty Images)

Source: ESPN

Phelps and Nicole Johnson secretly got married before the Rio Olympics but had a small ceremony in October in Cabo.

Phelps' training and diet have long been the subject of great worldwide fascination. At one point he was rumored to eat roughly 12,000 calories per day, and he works out intensely. Ahead of Rio, he added cupping therapy to his regimen.

REUTERS/Michael Dalder 

Phelps has been called a fish more times than we can count, and his physique is crucial to his success in the water. He is 6-foot-4 with a 6-foot-7 wingspan. He has size-14 feet, and his lungs are twice the size of the average human.

(Photo credit should read CHRISTOPHE SIMON/AFP/GettyImages)

Source: Scientific American

Even just warming up before a race, it was easy to see that he is a physical freak with incredible flexibility and hands that look more like flippers.

 (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

Phelps rigorous training included sleeping in a chamber that simulated an altitude of 8,500-9,000 feet. Phelps described it as being like "the boy in the bubble."

Photo Credit: Under Armour 

Out of the pool, Phelps has enjoyed almost as many endorsement deals as medals. At the height of Phelps' fame, he was sponsored by Visa, Proctor & Gamble, and more, making upwards of $5 million annually in endorsements.

Photo Credit: Under Armour 

In 2012, it was estimated that Phelps had already made $40 million in his career. That number is certainly much higher now, but it could have been even higher than that. Phelps' agent routinely rejected deals that didn't fit Phelps' lifestyle. "60 Minutes" once caught Phelps reacting to the news that his agent rejected a $5 million deal.

Photo Credit: CBS News

Phelps officially came out of retirement in April of 2014. Leading up to Rio, he said he was finally giving 100% to his training — for the first time in his career.

(Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

At Rio, for the first time in his career, Phelps attended the opening ceremony of an Olympic games and his Team USA peers voted him to be their flag-bearer.

REUTERS/Kai Pfaffenbach 

Phelps picked up five gold medals in Rio, giving him 23 in his career, the most ever in any sport. He also has 28 career medals overall, making him the most decorated Olympian ever. Nobody else has more than 18.

Phelps has been a bit carefree about his medals. He once showed Anderson Cooper that he keeps his medals in a makeup bag, wrapped in an old t-shirt.

Photo Credit: CBS News

Rio is also when Phelps became a meme, introducing us to "Phelps Face" as his rival Le Clos danced in front of him prior to a race.

Photo Credit: NBC

Rio also produced this great photo of the moment that Le Clos knew he was doomed in the 200-meter butterfly.

 (Photo by Pascal Le Segretain/Getty Images)

Another chief rival of Phelps has long been Ryan Lochte. However, the pair seemed to grow closer in recent years and even shared a post-race recovery meal in Rio.

But Lochte, who has won 12 Olympic medals of his own, gave a brutally honest assessment of swimming in the shadow of Phelps, saying, "My career would definitely be different. I guess you would say I'd be like the Michael Phelps of swimming if he wasn't there."

 (Photo by Stanislav Krasilnikov\TASS via Getty Images)

Even in retirement, Phelps is still part of the Under Armour family.

He seemingly has more endorsements than ever, including Colgate, Leesa mattresses, and Krave jerky.

He's even helping to promote the "Baywatch" movie.

There's no question he's the best Olympian ever. The only question now is whether he'll really stay retired or if he wants his son to see him compete in 2020. He would be 35 in Tokyo.

(Photo by Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images)

It's clear he is still in peak condition and is still working out.

But Phelps also has a lot on his plate these days, including testifying on Capitol Hill during an anti-doping hearing.

 REUTERS/James Lawler Duggan

Phelps is also an avid golfer. He participated in the Golf Channel's reality show, "The Haney Project" and even signed an endorsement deal with Ping to use their clubs.

Photo Credit: Michael Madrid-USA TODAY Sports

But he is also still swimming. As part of this year's "Shark Week" on Discovery Channel, Phelps is going to race a shark. Yes, a shark. He recently dove with some Great Whites for the first time.

He also spends time helping inner-city kids learn how to swim.

Photo Credit: CBS News

But Phelps also has one eye turned towards business. He wants to get involved in the tech industry and invest in start-ups, saying: "I would love to get involved, whether it's in a couple little startups here and there, take a little risk, have some fun and see where it goes."

(Photo by Scott Eisen/Getty Images)


The team developed a special device to record the sharks' swimming speed. Dubbed a "cutting-edge water vehicle prototype" featuring lightweight carbon fiber, the "pontoon bike" was trailed by bait to entice the shark to follow quickly behind as its speed was measured. First testing a hammerhead, the sea creature's top speed was measured at 15 miles an hour, and it traveled 50 meters in just over 15 seconds.

Compare that to Phelps' speed of just over 5.5 miles an hour when he broke the world record in the butterfly.

"Honestly, my first thought when I saw the shark was, 'There's very little chance for me to beat him,'" Phelps said.

Wearing a monofin to simulate a shark's movements — and to maximize his speed and the volume of water he was able to push with each kick — Phelps swam 50 meters in the ocean off the Bimini coast and came in at 18.7 seconds, with the team comparing his time to those of a hammerhead and a reef shark.

While he didn't beat the hammerhead, which swam the distance in 15.1 seconds, he was able to beat the reef shark by 0.2 seconds, swimming at 6 miles an hour.

Next up: the great white shark, whose top speed was recorded as more than 26 miles per hour (able to swim 100 meters in 36.1 seconds) off the coast of Mossel Bay, South Africa.

Working in Phelps' favor is the fact that sharks can't sustain a high speed and must slow down at times to conserve energy. The team decided to extend the race to 100 meters, given Phelps' ability to sustain top speeds over a long distance, to give him "a swimming chance," as one of the experts put it.

"I've always been an endurance swimmer, and hopefully that will work in my favor," Phelps said.

In addition, he was given a modified monofin in an effort to improve his speed even more. However, the visibility in the South African waters was not nearly as clear as that in Bimini. And the water was a lot colder, at 56 degrees, or 24 degrees colder than the water in an Olympic pool.

"I'm high maintenance when it comes to cold water," Phelps said. "I don't like it."

Making it more challenging, Phelps was wearing a wetsuit that was only 1 millimeter thick. Sharks, meanwhile, are able to raise the temperature of their muscles up to 25 degrees higher than their surroundings.

Read more: Sharks on a Plane: Discovery Sets 'Shark Week' Partnerships With Southwest Airlines and More Brands

By the way, in case you were wondering, Phelps did not race side-by-side with the sharks; rather, images the sharks were displayed alongside Phelps as he swam using CGI technology. Some viewers expressed disappointment on Twitter that he wasn't actually swimming in the water with the shark: "Michael Phelps is racing a CGI shark. The world is yet again a meme," wrote one.

But, noted Dr. Tristan Guttridge, a scientist leading the effort: "Clearly, we can't put Michael in one lane and a shark in the far lane. We have to do simulation. We'll use our speed data that we've (collected) in all our testing."

Meanwhile, Phelps worked on a new stroke as he practiced for the race. "I'm gonna have to swim, and act, like a shark," Phelps said ahead of the race, as he was seen swimming what looked like a sideways butterfly stroke.

RELATED: Michael Phelps Olympic history

Michael Phelps' Olympic history
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Michael Phelps' Olympic history
Team USA swimmer Michael Phelps prepares to swim laps during a practice session at Northside Swim Center in San Antonio, Texas, July 16, 2016. Mandatory Credit: Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports/File Photo
Michael Phelps (C) of the U.S. swims the butterfly stroke during his team's victory in the men's 4x100 meters medley relay at the National Aquatics Center during the Beijing 2008 Olympics August 17, 2008. Picture taken with underwater camera. REUTERS/Wolfgang Rattay/File photo
Michael Phelps of the U.S. poses with his gold medal after winning the men's 4x100m medley relay final during the London 2012 Olympic Games at the Aquatics Centre August 4, 2012. REUTERS/Jorge Silva/File photo
Michael Phelps and Garrett Weber-Gale (L) of the U.S. celebrate after winning the men's 4x100m freestyle relay swimming final at the National Aquatics Center during the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games August 11, 2008. REUTERS/David Gray (CHINA)
Gold medallist Michael Phelps of the U.S. listens to his national anthem during the men's 200m individual medley victory ceremony during the London 2012 Olympic Games at the Aquatics Centre August 2, 2012. REUTERS/David Gray 
Members of the men's 4 x 200m freestyle relay team, Michael Phelps, Conor Dwyer, Ryan Lochte and Ricky Berens (L-R) hold their national flag as they celebrate their gold medal win in the men's 4x200m freestyle relay victory ceremony during the London 2012 Olympic Games at the Aquatics Centre July 31, 2012. Phelps won the record 19th Olympic medal on Tuesday when he joined forces with his U.S. team mates to win the 4x200m freestyle relay. REUTERS/Jorge Silva 
Michael Phelps of the U.S. competes in the men's 400m individual medley swimming final at the National Aquatics Center during the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games August 10, 2008. Picture taken with underwater camera. REUTERS/Wolfgang Rattay (CHINA)
Michael Phelps of the U.S. holds up his award recognising him as the most decorated Olympian, during the London 2012 Olympic Games at the Aquatics Centre August 4, 2012. Phelps ended his incredible Olympic career on the perfect note on Saturday, winning his 18th gold medal for the United States in the men's medley relay, the last time he will swim a competitive race. REUTERS/Brian Snyder 
A combination photo shows Michael Phelps of the U.S. holding each of his eight gold medals in the swimming competition at the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games. Phelps won his eighth gold medal on Sunday, beating Mark Spitz's record of seven gold medals won at a single Games in 1972. The medals were won in: (Top row L-R) 400m individual medley (August 10), 4x100m freestyle relay (August 11), 200m freestyle (August 12), 200m butterfly (August 13). (Bottom row L-R) 4x200m freestyle relay (August 13), 200m individual medley (August 15), 100m butterfly (August 16), and 4x100m medley relay (August 17). REUTERS/Staff (CHINA)
Michael Phelps of the U.S. looks down at the pool after his team was beaten to the gold by France in the men's 4x100m freestyle relay final during the London 2012 Olympic Games at the Aquatics Centre July 29, 2012. REUTERS/David Gray 
Photographers surround Michael Phelps of the U.S. after he won his eighth gold medal of the games at the National Aquatics Center during the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games, August 17, 2008. REUTERS/Gary Hershorn (CHINA)

Added Guttridge: "This is like the tortoise and the hair, where Michael is the tortoise, steady as he goes, consistently in the race, while the white shark is slow and cruising with bursts of speed."

So who won?

Phelps swam the 100 meters in 38.1 seconds, while the shark did the same length in 36.1 seconds, beating Phelps by two seconds.

At the start of the race, Phelps reached a speed of 8.8 miles an hour, swimming faster than the shark, but then the shark took the lead at the 25-meter mark, and Phelps was unable to overcome the creature's lead.

"Before I dove in, I knew how cold it was going to be, and I knew that for me, as a swimmer, we don't swim in this, and it basically just shocked your entire body," he said. "And I have this little tiny wetsuit on, so it's absolutely freezing."

But Phelps isn't a sore loser: "I think it's impressive to see an animal survive this (cold water) and still have a top speed of 25 miles an hour."

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