Why the Animal Kingdom Has Olympic Athletes Beat When it Comes to Speed, Power, Stamina

By Chelsea Whyte on July 29, 2012 9:22 PM EDT

USAIN BOLT
Usain Bolt may be faster than most humans, but he can't outrun the fastest in the animal kingdom. (Photo: REUTERS)

Though he's the fastest human on Earth, even Usain Bolt doesn't hold a candle to the lightning-fast cheetah. As fantastic feats of human strength and ability are showcased in the Olympics starting this week, Craig Sharp from the Centre for Sports Medicine and Human Performance at Brunel University takes a moment to remind us all that the animal kingdom holds creatures that can outdo even our top athletes.

"Citius, Althius, Fortius (Faster, Higher, Stronger) is the Olympic motto, but if we allowed the rest of the animal kingdom into the Games, and it was to select the peregrine falcon (161 mph), Ruppel's vulture (37,000 feet) and the 190 ton blue whale as its representatives, we could not offer much competition," Sharp wrote, according to News Track India.

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Humans can run at a maximum speed of 23.4 miles per hour or 10.4 metres per second, which barely gives them an edge over an unlikely animal - the Dromedary camel. Surprisingly, this humped mammal can run at a top speed of 22 miles per hour.

In fact, humans are outrun by species of all types. The North African ostrich - the world's fastest running bird - clocks in at 40 miles per hour, while greyhounds can hit 43 miles per hour, and thoroughbred race horses run up to 55 miles per hour.  

A cheetah runs around twice as fast as the world's top sprinters at 64 miles per hour. For comparison, Usain Bolt ran 200 meters in 19.19 seconds; a cheetah covered the same distance in 6.9 seconds, Black Caviar (a racehorse) in 9.98 seconds, and a greyhound in 11.2 seconds.

And when you include birds and fish, those speeds seem almost slow. The sailfish can reach a swimming speech of 67 miles per hour and peregrine falcons can reach speeds of 161 miles per hour.

It's not just speed where animals trump humans. In terms of power, pheasant and grouse - relatively small birds - can generate five times as many Watts per kilo as trained athletes. Trained weightlifters may have everyday humans beat when it comes to lift power, but the kings of the jungle can heft a mighty amount.

An African elephant can lift over 650 pounds with its trunk, a grizzly bear can lift over 1,000 pounds, and a gorilla can lift nearly 2,000 pounds.

Sharp said human beings have adapted fantastically well to marathons and long distance running - long legs, short toes, arched feet and ample fuel storage capacity all help. But when it comes to stamina, animals win out again.

Camels can maintain speeds of 10 miles per hour for over 18 hours, and Siberian huskies set a record in 2011 by racing for 8 days, 19 hours, and 47 minutes, covering 114 miles a day.

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