Wednesday, 8 August 2012

The Animal Olympics

Tom Stubbs

We are over halfway through the Summer Olympic Games of 2012. Over the last week we have witnessed some incredible feats of speed and strength and multiple world records have been broken. But how do us hairless bipeds compare to other members of the animal kingdom?

Speed kings
Usain Bolt won the 100m sprint gold medal with a time of 9.63 seconds and in the 2008 Beijing Games he ran 9.69 seconds to win gold. More impressively, in the 2009 World Championships Bolt set two world records, running 100m in 9.58 seconds and 200m in a time of 19.19 seconds. This consistency has established him as the fastest human athlete ever. However, compared to some members of the animal kingdom Bolt looks like a bit of a slouch. The cheetah could complete the 100m sprint in 5.8 seconds and it is around twice as fast as the world's top sprinters, reaching speeds of 64mph. Bolt’s 200m record would be smashed by a cheetah that would complete it in just 6.9 seconds. The pronghorn antelope is another speedy competitor with running speeds of around 55 mph. If the pronghorn entered the 800m it could complete it in an incredible 33 seconds. To put this into context, the Kenyan 800m world record holder, runner David Rushida, ran that distance in 1 minute, 41 seconds.

Stamina, strength and swimming
How do our athletes compare in other Olympic events? Well this year’s Olympic gold long jump was won by Greg Rutherford with a leap of 8.31m. The world record long jump is a whopping 8.95 meters, currently held by Mike Powell. This distance approaches the leap of the red kangaroo (12.8 m) but falls short of the snow leopard that can jump up to 15 metres. Behdad Salimikordasiabi is considered the strongest man in the world after winning gold in the men's +105kg weightlifting category, lifting 247kg in the final. An elephant can lift 300kg with its trunk alone and the Gorilla, one of our closest relatives, can lift an unbelievable 900kg! It would be hard to argue that Michael Phelps is not the greatest swimmer of all time. In a 200m freestyle race Phelps swims around 4mph, a sailfish can travel at speeds of 67mph!

Although these comparisons may seem rather strange because the various animals mentioned are adapted to a specific mode of life, it does serve to highlight the incredible athletics abilities evolved through natural selection. Equally, these comparisons highlight the exceptional versatility of the human body. With training, athletes are able to tune their bodies to specific tasks. Can you image finding individuals within any other species that have such variation in speed and strength? This is what the Olympics places in the spotlight.

Check out the videos below!

Bolt vs. Cheetah 


The 10 Fastest Creatures on Earth