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An Olympic Damper: How Rubbish Humans Really Are at Sports

Slower, Lower, Weaker. Well, we can’t use the proper Olympics motto in a Trebuchet news item, lest we get lynched by a team of predatory lawyers hellbent on protecting the copyright phrases and icons their clients have paid huge chunks of folding for.

Paddy Power bookmakers tried something similar with their ambush advertisements claiming themselves as ‘Sponsor’s of London’s Biggest Athletics Event’, which in their case referred to an egg and spoon race in London, France. Nike have followed a similar train of thought, gathering together footage from the other Londons worldwide as part of their own ambush campaign. The end result is that litigatory solicitors in the UK capital are in as cold-sweat a state of alertness as Usain Bolt waiting for that starter gun to fire.

So instead of using those famous Olympian descriptors of human excellence, and getting sued to shreds. We’re going to celebrate man’s feebleness in comparison with the beasts of the field. Usain Bolt? He couldn’t even outrun an ostrich.

As Olympic competition starts in earnest today, Craig Sharp from the Centre for Sports Medicine and Human Performance at Brunel University, highlights a range of animals whose speed and strength easily trumps that of our most elite athletes.

Humans can run at a maximum speed of 23.4 miles per hour (37.6 kilometres/hour) or 10.4 metres per second, which gives them the edge over the Dromedary camel.

But only just, as these animals can run at a top speed of 22 mph (35.3 kph) or 9.8 metres/second.

A cheetah is around twice as fast as the world’s top sprinters at 64 mph (104 kph) or 29 metres/second. But the pronghorn antelope also puts in a very respectable 55 mph (89 kph) or 24.6 metres/second.

And let’s not forget the North African ostrich, which at 40 mph (64kph) or 18 metres/second, is the world’s fastest running bird. Or sailfish, which reach a swimming speed of 67 mph (108 kph) or 30 metres/second.

Then, of course, there are thoroughbred racehorses, the fastest of which has managed 55mph (88kph), and greyhounds at 43 mph (69kph).

And birds would win a few gold medals too. Peregrine falcons can reach speeds of 161 mph (259 kph), while ducks and geese rival cheetahs, with speeds of 64 mph (103 kph) in level flight.

And when it comes to power, pheasant and grouse can generate 400 Watts per kilo—five times as powerful as trained athletes. The tiny hummingbird can manage 200W/kg.

And in terms of strength, an African elephant can lift 300 kg with its trunk and carry 820 kg. A grizzly bear can lift 455 kg, while a gorilla can lift a whopping 900 kg.

Human beings have adapted fantastically well to marathons and long distance running, says Professor Sharp—long legs, short toes, arched feet and ample fuel storage capacity all help.

But they might find it hard to beat camels, which can maintain speeds of 10 mph (16kph) for over 18 hours, or Siberian huskies, which set a record in 2011, racing for 8 days, 19 hours, and 47 minutes, covering 114 miles a day.

And just to set the record straight…..

Usain Bolt ran 100 metres in 9.58 seconds; a cheetah ran the same distance in 5.8 seconds
Usain Bolt ran 200 metres in 19.19 seconds; a cheetah covered the same distance in 6.9 seconds, Black Caviar (racehorse) in 9.98 seconds, and a greyhound in 11.2 seconds
Michael Johnson ran the 400 metres in 43.18 seconds compared with 19.2 seconds for a racehorse and 21.4 seconds for a greyhound
David Rushida ran 800 metres in 1 minute 41 seconds, compared with 33 seconds for the pronghorn antelope and 49.2 seconds for a greyhound
An endurance horse ran a full marathon in 1 hour 18 minutes and 29 seconds, compared with the 2 hours, 3 minutes and 38 second record of Patrick Makau Musyoki
In the long jump, a red kangaroo has leapt 12.8 metres compared to the 8.95 metres Mike Powell achieved. Its high jump of 3.1 metres exceeds Javier Sotomayor’s at 2.45, who is also trumped by the snakehead fish, which can leap 4 metres out of the water

BMJ-British Medical Journal


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