FIVE-time Olympic swimming gold medallist Gary Hall has survived a shark attack while spear fishing with his sister off the Florida coast.
The 35-year-old American fought off the shark by punching and kicking it in the nose until his injured sister was able to shoot it in the mouth with a spear gun, Hall told the Los Angeles Times newspaper.
"Fortunately she injured the shark badly enough that a lot of blood was pouring from its mouth," he said.
"The shark swam off. Otherwise with her bleeding as much as she was it could have been disastrous."
The US swimming hero emerged unscathed from the attack, but his 28-year-old sister, Bebe, sustained a bite wound on the arm that required 19 stitches.
The incident took place a fortnight ago in the Florida Keys, a string of small islands 24km southwest of Miami.
The drama began when the Halls were spear fishing about 200 metres from their boat and spotted a shark. They started swimming back to their boat when a 1.8-metre black tip reef shark attacked.
"Another shark larger than the first one we saw came in from the side and bit (Bebe) on the arm," Hall said. "I didn't realise she had been bit before the shark was on me.
"It was swimming after me and thrashing and had its back arched in a frenzy mode. I kept punching it in the nose and kicking it and it kept coming after me.
"I was eventually able to get underneath it and roll it off of me. That's when it charged toward my sister.
"She had already been bit, but in the meantime she had enough sense to load the spear.
"The shark charged her with its mouth open and she shot it."
The shark swam away and they managed to get back to the boat where Hall fashioned a tourniquet for Bebe's arm.
"It was definitely a shot of adrenaline," Hall said. "I don't know what my split was for the 50 metres, but I am sure I haven't swam that fast in years."
Hall is in training for next month's US nationals in Los Angeles.
He finished in sixth in the 50m freestyle at the Janet Evans invitational at the University of Southern California at the weekend.
Hall won two gold medals each in the 1996 Atlanta and 2000 Sydney Olympic Games. He collected his fifth gold when he captured the 50m freestyle at Athens in 2004.
He will be shooting for his fourth Olympics by trying to make the US team for 2008 in Beijing.