Even Usain Bolt can't beat greyhounds, cheetahs... or pronghorn antelope

Jul 27, 2012

Even Usain Bolt, currently the fastest man in the world, couldn't outpace greyhounds, cheetahs, or the pronghorn antelope, finds a light-hearted comparison of the extraordinary athleticism of humans and animals in the Veterinary Record.

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

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 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. can reach speeds of 161 mph (259 kph), while ducks and geese rival , 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
"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," writes Professor Sharp.

"Or even if restricted to terrestrial animals, we could be up against the cheetah (65 ), the red kangaroo (3.1 metres) and the 12 ton bull African elephant—worth a thought when viewing the adulation given to our species' Olympic outliers in July," he continues.

But no single species matches the physical versatility of human beings, he concludes, and that is what the Games are designed to display to best effect.

Explore further: 'Killer sperm' prevents mating between worm species

More information: Animal athletes: a performance view Veterinary Record July 28; 171; 87-94

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User comments : 18

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Bowler_4007
2.3 / 5 (6) Jul 27, 2012
early on they say that humans max at 23.4mph and cheetahs max at about 64mph which is supposedly twice as fast as top human athletes which would make them super-human since thats 32mph and humans max at 23.4mph.. bad maths or averages mixed with highest recorded speeds?
Vendicar_Decarian
3 / 5 (3) Jul 27, 2012
Throw a cheetah, Bolt and a pronghorn out of an airplane and if Bold positions himself right, he can beat them both.
Squirrel
1.9 / 5 (9) Jul 28, 2012
Biologically, humans are specialist long distance runners/walkers thanks for efficient means of riding the body of exercise generated heat--sweat. Cheetahs might for short distances run faster but since they lack means of removing the muscle generated heat they would literally cook themselves to death if they did it for more than a short sprint. As a result, given a mile race humans can run faster than cheetahs.
sirchick
2.3 / 5 (4) Jul 28, 2012
Squirrel, thats a false illusion......by your example:

A car going for 100 hours at 1mph, is faster than humans cos we could not walk 100 straight hours with out exhaustion which is how i am reading your logic. Which we can safely agree humans can go faster than 1 mph.
deisik
3.7 / 5 (3) Jul 28, 2012
"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"

What?! Running the other 100 meters in about 1 second would mean 360 km/h
alfie_null
5 / 5 (4) Jul 28, 2012
To be fair, Craig Sharp should consider all the events, not just running. Elephants in the pole vault, camels in the high dive, etc. Maybe the whole bunch as a basketball team (have to figure out how to keep the cheetah from eating his team mates).
Skepticus
1.6 / 5 (7) Jul 28, 2012
We humans have to settle for being able to do a lot of things but with none particularly well, as Prof. Sharp points out. From a biological point of view, human muscles are neither capable of ultra-fast contractions, nor super strength. Be satisfied with what nature gives you, and make the most of that, which are considerable, consider the incredible feats some rare individuals are capable of.
deisik
5 / 5 (2) Jul 28, 2012
"We humans have to settle for being able to do a lot of things but with none particularly well, as Prof. Sharp points out. From a biological point of view, human muscles are neither capable of ultra-fast contractions, nor super strength"

I think Prof. Sharp is a bit cunning here, mildly speaking. If humans don't run as fast as a cheetah runs (as well as other quadrupedals do) it does not mean that humans run badly. Yes, a North African ostrich runs 40 mph, but don't forget it is the world's fastest running bird. Then again, a grizzly bear can probably lift 455 kg and a gorilla can lift 900 kg but it is not clear what is meant by "lifting" here

I personally think that we really do well with what we were given by nature
antialias_physorg
3 / 5 (2) Jul 28, 2012
We humans have to settle for being able to do a lot of things but with none particularly well

reminds me of the strategy guide for the Klingon cruiser in Star Fleet Battles:

"It's the ultimate mediocre ship: mediocre firepower, mediocre turn rate, mediocre energy generation, mediocre shields. The trick to winning with it is to find the one thing you're mediocre at that the enemy can't handle at all"

Humans have mediocre speed (compared to predators), mediocre energy efficiency (compared to herbivores), mediocre strength, mediocre teeth, mediocre flexibility/agility, ...
But we can always find out which of these will be the one that will save our behinds in any given situation.
Sinister1811
2.2 / 5 (10) Jul 28, 2012
Does it honestly surprise anyone that Usain Bolt fares comparatively worse [at running] against an animal that has practically evolved for sprinting at high speeds, for long distances? I mean, it's just obvious.
Anda
3 / 5 (2) Jul 28, 2012
And? That's news? And these comments?
Wanna be the best? Best predator, best annihilator...
PieterV
5 / 5 (3) Jul 28, 2012
Ridiculous article...mingled use of units, wrong numbers, bad maths and this is really not news or even remotely revolutionary. What editor allows this junk to be published?
Shootist
2.1 / 5 (7) Jul 28, 2012
Uh, lemme guess 4 > 2.

Next they're gonna tell us the airspeed velocity of an unladen sparrow.
Bowler_4007
1 / 5 (3) Jul 28, 2012
"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"

What?! Running the other 100 meters in about 1 second would mean 360 km/h


200 metres in 7 seconds is about 102km/h, animals don't run at fixed speeds so acceleration is a factor
deisik
not rated yet Jul 29, 2012
200 metres in 7 seconds is about 102km/h, animals don't run at fixed speeds so acceleration is a factor


Yeah, that would set the minimum top speed to 360 km/h. In fact, if the given numbers were correct the top speed would be in the thousands (no one can accelerate instantaneously, even cheetahs)
Bowler_4007
1 / 5 (3) Jul 29, 2012
theres no such thing as instant acceleration its a redundant concept, but as an animal runs it will gain and lose speed to turn, to handle changes of the surface and in response to surroundings.. oh and for 200m/7s i get 720km/h
deisik
not rated yet Jul 29, 2012
Which is impossible. The top speed of a cheetah is said to be 115 km/h, however small the distance and whatever it does, though it can actually run several hundred meters at maximum speed. This means that in no case the beast can exceed this value by itself (unless it jumps from the cliff, etc)

This professor pretends that it can run 100 meters in about one second which gives 360 km/h of AVERAGE speed. I don't get what you're arguing against
HeloMenelo
2.3 / 5 (9) Jul 29, 2012
All seem to forget, or not even mention the fact that, Cheetah's
and the other animals is unlike Usain Bolt, that is running on a carefully prepared surface, with probably the best running spikes money can buy, and comfortable clothes. A Cheetah is reaching these speeds OFF ROAD. And not like a rally car off road, freekin wild bush, unexpected uneven terain way deep in the sticks off road, i know what the surfaces are like where they roam, for i live in africa. An Amazing ability they have.