He may not have actually raced next to a real shark, but Michael Phelps still got to swim with some on Discovery’s Shark School With Michael Phelps. However, he had to work his way up the shark-ladder first.
Fifty miles off the coast of Florida, on the tiny island of Bimini in the Bahamas, Phelps joined a team of renowned shark scientists who gave the Olympian a crash course on everything shark.
Phelps started off in the shallows with some stingrays, but it wasn’t long before he was ready for some real action. In order to get Phelps familiar with being in the water with sharks, they had him first enter a cage surrounded by reef sharks. Once he felt comfortable, he was then allowed to exit the cage in order to swim freely. “Watching them come up and literally open their mouth right in front of your face… I mean, there were times when there were sharks probably like six inches from me, and that was insane”, said Phelps.
Next up, Phelps was tasked with learning how to tag a sleeping juvenile tiger shark and if there’s one thing we learned- the key is making sure it does not wake up. The baby shark had everyone on their toes as he suddenly thrashed around in the water, attempting to get away. Eventually, Phelps successfully implanted the chip and even named him after the real star of the 2016 Summer Olympics- his son, Boomer Phelps.
Phelps’s next lesson had him back in the water, where he then got up close and personal with a 10-foot long great hammerhead named Nemesis, a shark that the team has tracked for several years. While sitting on the bottom of the ocean floor, Nemesis swam straight for Phelps gliding her body right over him. “That was amazing,” said Phelps. “Seeing this creature with her mouth wide open and just, like, swimming around us. Oh my god. I mean, just when I thought it couldn’t get any better, that blew my mind.”
But if you thought all that was scary, it was nothing compared to what the team was actually preparing the greatest swimmer on the planet for- coming face-to-face with the ultimate predator, the great white shark. Or who we like to call JAWS.