Phelps, who retired from competitive swimming following the 2016 Summer Games in Rio, partnered with the Discovery Channel for the 100-meter race, which took place in Cape Town, South Africa, in June and is set to air on Sunday as part of the network’s annual Shark Week.
“This has been something I’ve wanted to do my whole life,” the 23-time Olympic Gold Medalist explained to GMA. “This has been on my bucket list a long time and you know, being able to see these animals up close and personal in their own environment is something that was just such a treat.”
Phelps admitted that he was not in the water at the exact time as the shark for the race, but the athlete did dive down to see his competition.
“They didn’t look that big underwater,” Phelps said of the sharks, which can swim 25 miles per hour. “I guess now seeing the video, they were pretty massive sharks. I had one, like I was saying, literally come right up to my nose, and it was crazy.”
Phelps went on to say of the race’s safety precautions: “I was safe. I had 12 to 14 divers underneath me when we were doing the race. When you have an animal this size, you want to be able to see how fast they swim. It’s tough to go into their territory and be able to swim as fast as they do, right?”
The Olympian was equipped with a tail-like attachment called a monofin, which allowed Phelps to move through the water like a shark.
The athlete went on to reveal what he called his biggest challenge — the cold open water. Phelps described the ocean as being “very different” than swimming in a pool as the water temperature was recorded at approximately 53 degrees.
“For me, it was an experience I’ll never forget. Being able to be on the bottom, basically, of the ocean floor and surrounded by a number of different species of sharks was one of the coolest things that I’ve probably ever done,” Phelps gushed of his experience.
The outcome of the race will be revealed when Phelps vs. Shark: The Battle for Ocean Supremacy airs on Sunday, July 23, at 8 p.m. ET on The Discovery Channel.
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