Today's Opinions, Tomorrow's Reality 

Unimpressive Specimens

By David G. Young

Washington, DC, August 16, 2016 --  

Physical abilities make humans unimpressive in the animal kingdom.

While human beings are transfixed by the summer Olympics, television ratings show that others in the animal kingdom just don't care.  Creatures from wildebeest to whales are overwhelmingly not watching the games, focussing instead on avoiding predators, finding food, mates and in many cases helping their offspring survive.

It's not hard to understand why animals don't care about the Olympic games.  When it comes to physical capabilities, even exceptional humans are pretty unimpressive compared to their animal compatriots.  The fastest human sprinter, Usain Bolt, achieved 23.2 miles per hour in Berlin in 2009.1,2  This is less than half the 60 mile per hour speed that Cheetahs commonly achieve in pursuit of their prey.  In water, some fish can also achieve speeds of 60 miles per hour or more.  Compare this to the incredibly pokey record set by Cesar Cielo at the Beijing games in the 50 meter freestyle, which amounts to just over 5.25 miles per hour.3,4

And what about air speed?  While average specimens of thousands of bird species can whiz by your head with ease, humans can't even get off the ground. 

Given their pathetic capabilities, it is stunning the lengths humans will go to best the modest achievements set by others in their species. High faultin’ concepts of sportsmanship, focus and drive may console some humans seeking a justification  for their futile efforts.   But contradicting behaviors show these are not the real reasons many humans strive.  The doping scandal that has disqualified the Russian Olympic team makes a mockery of sportsmanship.  It might be one thing if taking steroids would make a human fast as a cheetah.  But that's not even close to happening.

The one ability humans have that bests all others in  the animal kingdom, intelligence, is notably not a part of the Olympic competitions, at least not directly. Not only are feats of intelligence absent, the intelligence of many athletes is actually harmed by the extreme efforts taken by many during training.

Studies have long shown that long-term use of anabolic steroids has permanent negative effects on brain function5.  Memory, spatial awareness, and other cognitive functions are lessened. In essence, humans seeking tiny improvements in speed and other factors are sabotaging the one thing that truly makes them special amongst animals:  their brains.

Nowhere is this more stunning than with competitors in the Paralympics. Despite having physical disabilities that restrict them far more than their normal human limitations already do, doping is also widespread.  The disqualification of all Russian Paralympian athletes for this doping shows a tragic willingness of people to sacrifice their uniquely powerfully  brains for the chance to best only those amongst their particularly limited cohort of Paralympians.

This is crazy.  This behavior is utterly disrespectful of the greatest gift that all humans have been given.  Those who denounce athletic doping while dutifully contributing to the billions of dollars to be made through Olympic hype are passively contributing to the problem by creating the incentive for these people to conspire to destroy their minds at the altar of physical achievement.

Rather than being part of the problem by watching the games, spectator humans would be better served by exercising and developing minds of their own.  Barring that, they could simply follow the example of others in the animal kingdom by focussing their best abilities the more mundane tasks of survival. 


1. The Guardian, Usain Bolt Breaks World Record in Time of 9.58 Sec to Win 100m Gold in Berlin, August 16, 2009

2. Calculations by author. 100 meters in 9.58 sec = 10.4 meters/sec, 10.4 meters/sec x 3600 sec/hour x 0.00062 miles / meter = 23.2 miles per hour

3. ESPN, Cielo Sets 50-Meter Freestyle Mark, December 18, 2009

4. Calculations by author. 50 meters in 21.30 secs = 2.35 meters / sec, 2.25 meters/sec x 3600 sec/hour x 0.00062 miles / meter = 5.25 miles per hour

5. McLean Hospital, Brain Imaging Study Suggests Long-Term Steroid Use Can Lead to Significant Brain Structural and Functional Abnormalities, June 15, 2015