Animal athletes

Animal athletes

© Russell Savory

The world’s greatest sporting heroes are currently going head-to-head in Japan. These are some of the fastest, fittest and strongest people in the world, but even their impressive talents can’t match the amazing animal athletes who perform unbelievable feats every single day. Let’s meet some of the UK’s medal-worthy wildlife!

100m sprint
There are lots of contenders for this fast and furious event, with many animals capable of an incredible burst of speed. But the top spot on the podium probably goes to the brown hare. A hare’s powerful back legs can push it to speeds of up to 70 kilometres per hour when it needs to escape a predator! To put that into perspective, the world’s fastest man, Usain Bolt, clocked in at just under 45 kilometres per hour when he broke the world record for 100m.


Jon Hawkins - Surrey Hills Photography

Another tough field, with lots of animals splashing into contention. Kingfishers get a lot of points for style, streaking into the water in a flash of blue. If it was all about depth, then many seabirds, whales and dolphins would be in the running – some can dive hundreds of metres down! But gold has to go to the gannet, for its impressive plummeting performance. Gannets regularly dive head-first into the sea from as high as 70 metres! The highest diving board you’re likely to see in a competition is only 10 metres tall.

High jump
It’s pretty impressive to see a human throw themselves over an eight-foot-high bar, but this is nothing compared to the relative jumping power of some of our insects. Fleas are famous for their lofty leaps, with dog fleas springing as high as 25cm – over 200 times their body length! However, we’re giving the top spot to the froghopper. Froghoppers are only about a centimetre long, but have been recorded jumping as high as 70cm. Froghoppers weigh much more than fleas, so although this is only around 70 times their body length, it involves a much more powerful jump!

Black ant

Black ant by Don Sutherland

Power lifting
You’re probably not a world-class weightlifter, but I bet you can lift more than an ant. So it might surprise you that our power lifting champion is indeed one of these tiny insects! Ants may be small, but each and every one of them has super strength. Depending on the species, ants regularly carry objects 10-50 times heavier than their bodyweight. That would be like a person lifting a cow clean above their head!

Our seas are full of fast fish and dashing dolphins, so there’s a lot of competition for medals in the water. The top speed belongs to the mako shark, a rare visitor to UK seas that is thought to reach speeds of over 70 kilometres per hour! However, our champion might just be the mackerel. These fantastic fish can put on bursts of almost 20 kilometres per hour, but they get bonus points for synchronized swimming as big shoals dart around in close formation.

Animals often end up in a fight over food, territory or potential mates. Some bite, scratch or kick, but others come together in wrestling matches, grappling and shoving to see who is stronger. Our king of the ring is the stag beetle. Males use their large jaws to wrestle with each other when looking for a mate.