Winning Gold: Animal Athletes of the World
Winning Gold: Animal Athletes of the World

The Olympic Games bring together the best athletes from around the world to compete for the gold.  Meet some animals with incredible abilities that even our top athletes can’t match.

The Strongest

Olympic weightlifter Hossein Rezazadeh was able to hoist an incredible 263 kg above his head — almost double his body weight!

Impressive? Not when compared to the world champion lifters — insects!  Insect exoskeletons are lighter and stronger than bone allowing them to devote more energy to muscle power.  The Asian weaver ant can lift up to 100 times its body weight — like a human lifting 7 tonnes!

Weaver Ant

But the creature that takes home the gold for strength would hardly be visible on the podium.  The tiny little oribatid mite lives in tropical soils and mosses and is under one millimetre in size. But this mighty mite can lift 1,180 times its weight — equivalent to a human pulling six double-decker buses!

The Highest and Deepest Divers

In the animal world, the gold medal in the high dive goes to the gannet.

They fly high above the sea looking for schools of fish below.  When they spot one, they dive, streaking down from 30 metres high and entering the water at 100km/h.

Their incredible speed gets them 10 metres deep, and they can swim a further 20 metres to snag their meal.

 

What about underwater dives? In 2016, New Zealander William Trubridge set a world record with an incredible 124-metre dive, holding his breath for almost four and a half minutes.

In the animal world, the Cuvier’s beaked whale has been recorded diving almost three kilometres deep in search of squid and deep-sea fish.  At that extreme depth, this whale withstands 300 times the pressure at the surface.   To survive, their rib cage folds in, and their lungs collapse, leaving them to rely on the oxygen in their tissues.  One whale was reported to have held its breath for a staggering 138 minutes!

beaked whale

The Speediest

Jamaican sprinter Usain Bolt is the fastest human. He  holds the record for running the 100-metre sprint in 9.58 seconds  — reaching a top speed of 44.72 km/h. But, he has some serious competition on land from the animal world.

The cheetah is the fastest land animal, reaching speeds of over 100 km/h in short sprints. Close behind, the pronghorn antelope can reach speeds of 89km/h when sprinting and can run flat-out at 48 km/h for miles — handily beating Bolt.

Most Accurate Sharpshooters

In the Olympics, some events are won with accuracy and precision. Competitors in the biathlon and archery need a steady hand to hit their mark.

The best sharpshooters in the world are chameleons. When hunting they use their eyes, which swivel independently, to zero in on a target. Their tongue sits upon a long, thin bone, with coiled fibrous tissue and muscle around it, like a spring primed to fire. Once it’s locked on a target, it shoots forth at up to 15m/s and wrapping its tongue around the prey.

 
Best Jumpers

Olympics high jumpers can jump over two metres high! That's nothing compared to the animal world. Cougars can jump 5.5 metres straight up, while white-tailed jackrabbits jump a distance of 6.4 metres when running.

But to find the real champions, we must go smaller.

Springtails are tiny, measuring less than 6 millimetres in size. They have their very own springboard, a small lever called a ‘furcula’ folded beneath their abdomen, held under tension. When threatened, they release their furcula, which pushes against the ground and flips them 15 centimetres in the air (almost 25 times their body length). That’s like a human being jumping over the Eiffel Tower. 

 
World's best boxer

When it comes to boxing in the animal world, there’s only one gold medalist.

Mantis shrimp feed on marine snails and clams. They have a unique way of cracking their prey’s shell — by punching them. Using a durable club appendage, the mantis shrimp moves through the water at 14-23 metres per second, with the force of a .22 calibre bullet.

The punch is so powerful it vaporizes the water in front of it, creating extreme heat and light. It’s a one-two punch — a mighty blow, combined with a super-hot shockwave.