x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 21 November 2017

Michael Phelps challenges Conor McGregor to swimming race: 'I'll give him a 50m head start'

American Olympic great is in Dubai for the opening of the Under Armour store in Dubai Mall.

Michael Phelps won 23 gold medals over four Olympic Games. Lee Jin-man / AP Photo
Michael Phelps won 23 gold medals over four Olympic Games. Lee Jin-man / AP Photo

Michael Phelps has reiterated his challenge to Conor McGregor to a race in the pool – saying he would be confident of winning a 100m freestyle race even if he gave the Irishman a 50m head start.

The American swimming great posted a picture on his Twitter account last month, pitting himself next to a mocked-up image of McGregor, the mixed-martial arts fighter, wearing a swimming hat.

Following soon after the “Money Fight”, when McGregor swapped the MMA octagon for a boxing ring to fight Floyd Mayweather, Phelps’ post was retweeted over 55,000 times.

Phelps acknowledged the challenge was in jest – but said he would be happy to race.

“Everyone kept tweeting and retweeting this photo that I tweeted of him and I across from each other,” Phelps said. “I said it as a joke. If he wants to swim, I don’t care. I’ll race him.

“If we did it in a year, and I trained for a year, or even six months, I could probably go 48 seconds if I had to. I don’t see him breaking a minute. So I could probably beat him with a 50 metre head start.

“I would definitely exercise the option to have a conversation if he wants to swim.”

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Phelps enjoys seeing athletes cross codes to challenge themselves. He has taken to the fairways against the world No 2 golfer Jordan Spieth in the past.

“He’s a plus 6, I’m a nine [handicap], and he is still killing me,” said Phelps, who is in Dubai for the opening of the Under Armour store in Dubai Mall.

Although he says he would step into a boxing ring, he is cool on his chances.

“It shows how hard it is to do other sports,” he said. “That fight between [McGregor] and Floyd was great.

“I knew it would be very hard for him to win, because Floyd is Floyd. That guy is pretty damn good – plus it is another sport.”

Phelps is no stranger to quirky challenges in the pool. In July, he lost a race to a computer generated shark, and in 2009 he raced the basketball player Shaquille O’Neal.

Phelps had to swim a 200m individual medley, while O’Neal swam the final leg of a relay with three members of the Unites States’ female team. And Phelps had an additional handicap.

“When I raced Shaq, I had a broken foot, I had just been in a car accident and broke my right foot, so I couldn’t straighten my foot,” Phelps said.

“But Shaq, obviously, is massive.”