Man vs Animal Competitions

Man has always considered himself the dominant species on earth, and over time has occasionally needed to prove that point by challenging animals to various interspecies sporting competitions.

Roman Gladiators

A prime example of man versus beast competition was back when Roman gladiators at the Colosseum battled against lions and other beasts in a battle to the death. I think the lion was often the victor in those competitions, but that has not stopped may more animal challenges in modern times.

Jesse Owens vs. a Horse

One of the most well-known man versus animal challenges involves American sprinter Jesse Owens who resorted to racing against horses to earn an income after winning gold at the 1936 Olympics. Owens relied on the highly strung racehorses being started at the start when the starting pistol was fired, giving him enough time for a head start, which normally ensured victory.

Man vs. Horse Marathon

Owens was able to show it is possible for man to occasionally beat a horse in a sprint, but what about over a marathon distance? Such a question inspired the organizers of the Man vs. Horse Marathon, in which runners, cyclists and horse riders compete against each other over a 22 mile (35 km) cross-country course. It is a race in which the horses usually win, but not always. The first time a human beat the horses was in 1989, with Tim Gould riding on a bicycle. The first time a runner beat the horses was Huw Lobb in 2004, at the 25th running of the race. Just three years later, runner Florian Holzinger also beat the first horse.

Racing a Cheetah

The cheetah is undoubtedly the fastest of all land mammals. A cheetah called Sarah ran 100m in 5.95 seconds with a top speed of 61 mph in 2012. That's nearly 4 seconds faster than Usain Bolt's 100m world record and more than double his top speed.

Such stats did not deter Chicago Bears wide receiver Devin Hester and Chris Johnson of the Tennessee Titans, who raced against a pair of cheetahs for a documentary for Nat Geo Wild's "Big Cat Week". Hester won his race though Johnson came up short in his.

South African rugby player Bryan Habana raced against a cheetah in 2007. Habana was given a 35-metre head start and still lost, albeit by a tiny margin.

Phelps vs. a Shark

As part of Discovery Channel's Shark Week, Olympic champions swimmer Michael Phelps took on a great white shark off the coast of Cape Town, South Africa, over his preferred distance of 100m. To help him swim faster and to simulate a shark's movements, Phelps wore a one-piece flipper "monofin". To many people's disappointment, Phelps did not swim side by side with the shark. Phelps swam the 100 meters in 38.1 seconds, while the shark did the same length in 36.1 seconds, beating Phelps by two seconds.

sprinter racing a giraffesprinter Shawn Crawford takes on a giraffe, from the Man vs Beast TV Show in 2003

Dennis Northcutt v an ostrich

On the Sports Science TV show, NFL Wide Receiver Dennis Northcutt raced against the fastest animal on two legs - an ostrich. Racing side-by-side on separate tracks, Northcutt was able to easily cover the 40 yards distance quicker than the ostrich, which obviously had no motivation to run fast. Once they put Northcutt in the same enclosure as the ostrich, with the footballer trying to chase the bird, survival instinct set in and the ostrich was able to race away from him, showing its superior speed.

Man vs Beast TV Show

The Man vs Beast television show, which aired in the USA in 2003, involved humans taking on a variety of animals in a range of physical challenges. A second series was shown the following year. There is no way such a show would be made today.

The competitions included the following match-ups:

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