Michael Phelps is the most decorated Olympian of all time, but the 32-year-old might soon meet his match.
This Sunday, the Baltimore-born swimmer will race against sharks, including a great white, in the Discovery Channel special "Phelps vs. Shark: The Battle for Ocean Supremacy," which takes place during the network's 29th annual "Shark Week."
Rich Ross, group president of Discovery Channel, Animal Planet, Science Channel and Velocity, said Discovery wanted to kick off this year's "Shark Week" in a special way with hopes of bringing attention to the world and conservation of sharks.
"We thought it would make sense to work with a celebrity. … We looked at a list and when we saw Michael Phelps, it came to us that it would be perfect because certainly he's an icon and he's so connected with water," he said.
The idea of having Phelps participate in "Shark Week" evolved from him learning about sharks to "to him swimming with sharks and then ultimately competing with a shark, all with a sense of play," Ross said.
In the episode, Phelps will race against a reef shark, a hammerhead, and in the final competition, a great white. Discovery Channel declined to share many details about the logistics of the race, but said Phelps will both swim in open water — though not side-by-side.
Phelps was protected "with all the security he could possibly have," Ross said.
The most daunting part, however, was not the sharks, Ross said.
Phelps swam off the coast of Cape Town, South Africa, with water temperatures around 56 degrees — a steep drop from the 70- to 80-degree pools Phelps normally swims in.
"I prepared in the water for hours with a mono-fin to increase my speed," Phelps said in a promo video for Discovery Channel.
Ross said viewers will be able to see the commitment Phelps has put into learning about the sharks and swimming as fast as he can.
"It's really what 'Shark Week's' about and we couldn't have a better partner than Michael," Ross said. "The 29th year [of 'Shark Week'] feels fresh as the first year."
Phelps will also get up close with a hammerhead and a great white in another "Shark Week" program — "Shark School" — at 8 p.m. July 30, where he will join a shark biologist and a behavioral ecologist for a lesson on everything shark.
"Phelps vs. Shark" will air 8 p.m. Sunday on the Discovery Channel.
Just how does Phelps stack up against the great white? Check out our tale of the tape here.
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