It was a question for the ages: will a boy ever be born who can swim faster than a shark?
YouGov surveyed the nation last year, around the release of the David Brent film Life On The Road, and the people were pessimistic about the chances of homo sapiens ever outswimming selachimorpha – just 5 per cent of all those surveyed believed that it would ever happen, with 60 per cent deciding that it was just an impossible dream.
However, the good people at Discovery decided to settle the question – for now – by pitting the 28-time Olympic medal winner Michael Phelps against a shark in a 100 metre race to celebrate the start of their annual shark week.
And the winner was……? This lad:
Yes, we’re sad to report that the 32-year-old American could not overhaul his fishy foe, losing by a respectable two seconds.
However, some viewers were left disappointed after discovering that the race wasn’t exactly a first-to-the-finish open water shoot-out – instead, a team of scientists gathered data from actual sharks, such as Hammerheads and reef sharks, to create simulated sharks for Phelps to swim against.
After a few trial runs in open water against these minnows, the final showdown was against a simulated Great White. Swimming in open water just off Mossel Bay in South Africa, Phelps was neck-and-neck – do sharks have necks? We’re not sure – at the halfway point against the legendary beast, but the shark held its nerve to finish in 36.1 seconds, ahead of Phelps’ time of 38.1 seconds.
Phelps was shown heading underwater to meet his opponent in a cage before the ‘race’, clearly he was psyched-out by their cold, dead eyes.
The shark data was collected by using a 'cutting-edge water vehicle prototype' that trailed bait to entice the sharks, enabling scientists to measure their speeds. Meanwhile, Phelps was kitted out in a swimsuit designed to mimic the skin of a shark, whilst also being given a fin to waggle about.
But it wasn’t enough to win the battle – but will there ever be a boy born who can swim faster than a shark? Well, that’s for future generations to discover.