“The world’s most decorated athlete takes on the ocean’s most efficient predator: Phelps V Shark – the race is on!” — Discovery
Everyone knew Phelps v. Shark was a marketing ploy to hoodwink apathetic viewers into a ratings bonanza during “Shark Week.” But when it was announced Salmon, a fish respected throughout the food chain and familiar to most health-minded consumers, would race against Ryan Lochte, a swimmer enjoyed through Schadenfreude and clever memes, it captivated the hearts of Americans, specifically the ventricle of the heart not being regularly captivated by televised human v. animal feats of strength.
It was the classic tale of boy next door wins medals, boy earns endorsement deals, slightly obnoxious boy gets his own reality show, millennial goes back to the Olympics, international blemish disgraces his country publicly, grown man loses his endorsement deals and seeks redemption by racing a fish on TV. Lochte trained for months. Salmon was plucked out of a river during its migration upstream, where it was planning to further its species during a once-in-a-lifetime journey.
Vegas had Salmon as a slight favorite in early betting even as the frenzy boosted the national price of lox, making the protein less popular with shoppers. In the early going it was no contest, the fish reaching the far end of the pool before Lochte took his first breath. But then the unthinkable occurred — Salmon paused to spawn near the wall and Lochte pounced, breast-stroking through the cloud of eggs for the victory.
The fallout was massive. Animal activists claimed spawning was equivalent to an injury, and the referees should have halted the race until the cycle of life was complete. Lochte activists insisted aquatic masturbation in a public pool should have resulted in disqualification. Lawyers on both sides threatened legal action. Despite the controversy, Lochte earned $3 million for the win. Salmon was freed back into the river where it perished like a proper spawning fish.
Lochte v. Salmon II was a gambling frenzy. Due to the chlorinated pool, animal activists felt Salmon I had been forced to swim through inhumane conditions. The only fair sequel was if Lochte raced Salmon II through an “away pool.” The lawyers settled on the Pacific Ocean. The athletes would race up the Clackamas River to an uninhabited river bed where salmon had been migrating for centuries, and which had to be bulldozed to erect a finish line and concession stand to provide snacks and beverages for swimming fans.
Salmon II took an early lead until the dreaded three-mile mark, when it was bitten in half by a grizzly bear. The injury was captured by a FinCam that had been attached to the dorsal cartilage, which several swimming pundits alleged slowed Salmon II when attempting to elude the bear. The thirty-second clip garnered 40 million views by the time Lochte crossed the finish line. Similar to when Rocky fought Drago to avenge Apollo’s death, during the post-race interview Lochte announced he would race the bear that chomped in half his most formidable competition since Salmon I. Also, both contestants were contractually obligated to race any creature that ended the event early, an insurance clause the lawyers insisted on after pre-race swimulations showed it was highly likely Salmon II or Lochte might be foraged for protein, plucked out of the racecourse by bald eagles and fed to baby eagles, or snagged by fishermen.
Lochte v. Bear is slated for early spring, once the lawyers work out the details. To ensure the race is fair, they either want to shave Bear or make Lochte swim in a bear costume.