The internet is on fire again.
Why? Because Olympic champion swimmer Michael Phelps didn’t actually race a real shark.
The flap began when The Discovery Channel began promoting a special event in which Phelps, holder of a record 28 Olympic medals, would be tested against one of nature’s fastest swimmers, a Great White Shark. While the cable network never actually said the two speedsters would be side-by-side in the water, or even that the shark would be real, the hype never explicitly said otherwise.
When the stunt hit the airwaves, many viewers were apparently shocked to discover that Phelps actually swam against a computer generated animation of a Great White whose speed was based on information from what Discovery describes as “world class” experts on the animal. Phelps lost the 100-meter race to the simulation by two seconds.
OK, everybody take a breath. Yes, Discovery was a bit deceptive. But it’s ultimately on us to judge any claim – whether it’s a news story, investment claim or entertainment stunt. Haven’t we all read enough news stories and seen enough documentaries to understand that, as Richard Dreyfuss’ character in Jaws, noted: “Great Whites eat, and they make baby Great Whites. That’s all they do!”
So, did anyone who gave this more than a minute of thought actually believe Phelps would be swimming along side such a primitive munching machine? Boy, I hope not. Then again, as the saying goes, “There’s a sucker born every minute.”
The Discovery Channel’s stunt wasn’t really a new idea. Olympic champion sprinter Jesse Owens kicked off his professional career in 1936 by racing a thoroughbred horse. A real one. Owens, who was given a 40-yard head start, won that race.
Cover image: Leonard Zhukovsky / Shutterstock.com