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June 17, 2017

Michael Phelps, tired of winning gold medals, will race a shark

For the past four Summer Olympics, Michael Phelps has done nothing but mercilessly own all competition, claiming 23 gold medals and dominating every swim stroke this side of mankind.

He must be getting bored or else he wouldn't be preparing to race a shark next month.

The Discovery Channel announced Friday that Phelps, the 31-year-old Baltimore native, will be taking part in a man-versus-shark race during "Shark Week," which runs this year from July 23-30.

Here's the network's description:

They are one of the fastest and most efficient predators on the planet: Sharks. He is our greatest champion to ever get in the water: Michael Phelps. 39 world records. 23 Olympic golds. But he has one competition left to win. An event so monumental no one has ever attempted it before. The world’s most decorated athlete takes on the ocean’s most efficient predator: Phelps V Shark – the race is on! Produced by Peacock Productions.

We have no idea what kind of shark Phelps plans on racing (looks like a great white in the promo picture) or in what environment the event will be held, but one thing is pretty clear: he's going to be seriously challenged.

Swimming can be difficult to compare to terrestrial speeds for a solid frame of reference, yet numbers don't lie. Phelps' best swim times range in the area of 4 to 6 mph. In the 2008 Olympics, his 100-meter butterfly came in at 50.77 for 100 meters, or 4.4 mph. His fastest recorded swim speed, according to ESPN, is 6 mph.

Fish, of course, live and move best in water, since they're fish. They also come in all different sizes and shapes. The website Neatorama once compared Phelps' swim speed to a goldfish and found that in absolute terms, the goldfish clocked a measly 0.85 mph over the same 100 meters. But in terms of body length per second, the goldfish beats Phelps by a ratio of 4.5 to 1.

The fastest fish in the world, the Indo-Pacific sailfish, can hit speeds up to 68 mph.

The caveat is that sharks are creatures of instinct, not athletes, and they only hit top speeds when in pursuit of prey. The average cruising speed of a shark is about 5 mph, giving Phelps a realistic shot depending on the species he'll be competing against. A great white shark has a top swim speed of about 25 mph, or ten times faster than the typical human swimmer.

It's unlikely that the Discovery Channel would set Phelps up for complete failure. It's even more unlikely that a guy like Phelps would agree to get beat in a race that gives him no chance at winning. Without knowing all of the details just yet, it's safe to say Phelps better hope the shark he's racing doesn't get angry or mistake anything for prey. Especially Michael Phelps.

Here's a full rundown of this year's "Shark Week" schedule.