Hint: humans lose.
Signe Dean

19 Aug 2016 - 1:26 PM  UPDATED 19 Aug 2016 - 1:26 PM

The beautiful celebration of human achievement that is the 2016 Olympic Games is almost over, and we’ve witnessed some truly impressive feats from the likes of inimitable US swimmer Katie Ledecky and Jamaican running legend Usain Bolt, amongst many other outstanding athletes.

But every now and then it’s good to remember that, in contrast to many other species, humans are actually quite limited in their abilities. There’s no doubt that what we lack in physical attributes we compensate abundantly with brain, culture, and social structures - and yet an average wild pig could outrun Usain Bolt and hardly break a sweat.

Science writer Cara Giaimo over at Atlas Obscura has light-heartedly raised that point this week, comparing a few human speed records to critters from across the animal kingdom - from warthogs to penguins and even butterflies.

“I'm not even talking about those fancy calculated situations that try to make things physiologically fair, and thus prove that a human-sized ant could pick up a semi-truck with one leg, or that a human-sized flea could jump Big Ben,” she writes.

“Animals don't even need that. At their own sizes, with no trickery, tons of them can trounce us.”

So how exactly do we fare?

Often called the fastest human ever, Usain Bolt has clocked the dizzying speeds of roughly 12.4 metres per second. But a peregrine falcon - although in flight, not running - can cover 82.2 metres in that same second (it’s the fastest bird on the planet). Meanwhile the fastest animal runner is of course the cheetah, which can easily cover 32 metres in a second.

Humans don’t live underwater, so it’s actually fair that many marine animals can overtake us in a heartbeat. Even a lumbering gray whale could sail past an Olympic swimming champion at 2.2 metres per second.

These and a few more comparisons are helpfully laid out in this graphic chart (being of a US origin, it measures things in miles and feet, though).

You should head over to Atlas Obscura to check out the image in full, and read more fascinating facts about our animal brethren and their own records.

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