THE major topic of conversation at work this week has of course been the Olympic Games.
Like many people, much of my spare time has been spent with eyes glued to the TV coverage. In truth, some work time has been lost too with the BBC Sport website hiding behind the hospital software in my consulting room.
Major sporting events highlight the extraordinary human achievements performed by the very best athletes of our species.
However, there is a range of animal performance that goes far beyond our abilities, both in the wild and in selectively bred sporting animals, such as the racehorse, racing camel, greyhound, sled-dog and racing pigeon.
While Usain Bolt may achieve speeds of around 27mph during the 100m, this is as nothing compared with the humble greyhound who crosses the line at anything up to 43mph.
A greyhound has run 100m in 5.8 seconds, which compares pretty favourably with Bolt’s 9.58.
Your average thoroughbred racehorse pretty much matches the greyhound for speed, while the fastest recorded horse, the racing quarter horse, has been clocked at 55mph. The cheetah, incidentally, has been timed to reach 64mph.
Roger Bannister’s sub-four minute mile is put into perspective by the record time of 6hr 41min 33sec for a single-rider 100-mile horse race in Australia.
That is an average time of a shade over four-minute mile pace.
At the other end of the running spectrum is Paula Radcliffe’s London marathon world record time of 2hr 15min 25sec, but she would of course be soundly thrashed by a top endurance horse’s time of 1hr 18min 29sec.
In the endurance stakes, Morpeth’s very own ultra-marathon runner and Olympic torchbearer (and proud owner of some very lovely American cocker spaniels) Stevie Matthews entered the 2006 Guinness World Records book as the fastest woman to complete the North Pole marathon and has recently completed the 60km Kepler Challenge in New Zealand up and down steep ascents and descents, and along glacial alpine ridges in under 11 hours.
There are some pretty outstanding animal endurance feats too, which include a camel’s ability to maintain a speed of 10mph over 18 hours.
Siberian husky sled-dogs compete in the 1,000-mile Alaskan Iditarod in teams of 12 to 16, over mountain, tundra, forest and frozen rivers.
Over at the field events, the long-jumping red kangaroo has leapt 12.8m, compared to Mike Powell’s 8.95m, and its high jump of 3.1m is well ahead of Javier Sotomayor’s 2.45m.
Javier is also overtaken by the springbok, reputed to jump over 3m and by the snakehead fish, which is said to leap 4m out of the water.
Most measures of animal physical prowess are loose approximations at best, but none more so than the rather difficult measure of strength.
For example, how could you measure the ‘strength’ of the blue whale?
The African elephant is said to be able to lift 300kg with its trunk, which makes the human world power lifting record of 457.5kg look pretty good, until you consider that an elephant is also able to carry getting on for a ton of logs on its back.
When it comes to straightforward lifting, a fairer comparison is perhaps with a gorilla’s ability to lift 900kg, once again putting poor old us in the shade.
As vets for both Newcastle Racecourse and the Wansbeck greyhound track, we have the privilege to treat some of the best animal athletes around.
I’m still looking forward to my trip to London for the beach volleyball though.
CHRIS GREEN, Director and Senior Vet