The Athlete’s Village of the Animal Kingdom04/30/2022 ● By Lexie Briggs
But what if we pitted the best athletes in the world up against the best runners and jumpers in the animal kingdom? Would world-class human athletes still have the upper hand?
Javier Sotomayor, a high jumper from Cuba, won the gold medal for high jump in the 1992 Summer Olympic Games and set the current world record in 1993. He’s the only human in history to clear eight feet, with a high jump of 2.45 meters (eight feet and one half inch). But how does he stack up against the best jumper from the animal kingdom, a Siberian tiger?
Siberian tigers have long hind legs and strong muscles for powerful push-offs, setting them up for incredibly high jumps. A tiger’s jump can clear 3.96 meters—that’s 13 feet high!
Petrucio Ferreira dos Santos, a Brazilian para-athlete with one arm amputated below the elbow, is very fast. In 2017, Ferreira set a world record for the 200-meter race with a speed of 21.21 seconds, meaning he ran a half a lap in less than half a minute. But how does he stack up against a cheetah?
Cheetahs have large nasal cavities to increase oxygen while sprinting, a small, narrow face to minimize wind resistance, long legs for an explosive stride, and a long tail that can act as a rudder to change directions at top speed. Cheetahs can run 200 meters in 6.9 seconds.
Jarmila Kratochvílová, a Czech runner, set the women’s world record for the 800-meter race in 1983, and it is the longest-standing world record in outdoor athletics. The 800-meter race is two laps of a track, or almost a half a mile. Kratochvílová ran 800 meters in 1 minute and 53 seconds. But how does she stack up against some familiar animal athletes, the pronghorn antelopes?
Pronghorn antelopes, from western North America, have long legs and large front hooves that absorb stride impact. They have strong but lightweight bones, and a massive heart and lungs for moving at top speed. It should come as no surprise that antelopes can run 800 meters in 35 seconds.
So, is there any sport humans are better at?
Yes! When it comes to throwing a javelin, humans are much, much better than any other animal on earth. Humans have dexterous fingers and strong hands for gripping and aiming. We have arms that can rotate behind our bodies, a trait unique to humans. We can move our hips and torso separately, and we have flexible shoulder joints to increase throwing power. Incredible!
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[Tiger photo] © Photo by Joel Sartore/National Geographic Photo Ark. An endangered Malayan tiger, Panthera tigris jacksoni, at Omaha Henry Doorly Zoo, on view until May 29 at the Museum of Natural and Cultural History.