Pro Soccer Players Have Sharper Mental Skills
Event: 200m Race
July 30, 2012
- Over the next few weeks, until August 12, the world’s best Summer Olympic athletes will display their sporting skills. But non-humans could also ace many events. Cheetahs, for example, can run up to 70 miles an hour. The cheetah in this photo, chasing a Thompson’s gazelle in Tanzania, could very well have been going that speed. In a nod to super-fast species, two cheetah cubs, a male and a female, at the Smithsonian's National Zoo will soon be named after the fastest American male and female in the Olympics 100-meter dash. The possible names for the female cub: Carmelita, Tianna and Allyson; for the male cub: Justin, Tyson and Ryan.
NEWS: Robotic Cheetah Could Catch Usain Bolt
Event: Sailing Sailfish can swim up to 68 miles per hour, which would allow them to zip through the Olympics sailing event even without a sailboat! The fish actually has a "sail" that is normally kept folded down and to the side when swimming, but can be raised at any moment. Fish, sharks and marine mammals are such talented swimmers that Olympic athletes study their movements and wear suits modeled after their body structures. Rajat Mittal, a professor in the Whiting School of Engineering at Johns Hopkins University, has worked with Olympic athletes, providing information about swimming mechanics inspired by dolphins. He told Discovery News, “To win, our Olympians must go all out and swim in what is essentially an efficient manner. Dolphins and sharks, by contrast, never compromise their speed with efficiency. They are truly among nature’s best swimmers.”
VIDEO: Watch Sailfish in Action in this LIFE clip.
James G. Howes
Event: Soccer Woe be the soccer player who comes into contact with a North African ostrich. These flightless birds, weighing in at around 345 pounds, can kick humans to death. They are also the fastest bird on land, running up to 45 miles per hour. If birds could play field sports a la Harry Potter, taking to the air, Peregrine falcons would be the team choice. They can dive toward the earth at speeds greater than 200 miles per hour.
VIDEO: One of the Dirtiest Jobs: Ostrich Farmer
Event: Weightlifting Rhinoceros beetles can lift 850 times their own weight. Pound for pound, they would blow away all other insect and animal contenders.
VIDEO: Watch a Rhino Beetle Put to the Test
Event: 400m Freestyle Swimming Dall porpoises can swim up to 35 miles per hour, making them the fastest water-dwelling mammals, according to the Smithsonian's National Zoo. Russell Mark, USA Swimming's director of biomechanics, told Discovery News that the dolphin/porpoise-style kick can make or break most human swimming races. "This is when swimmers push off walls and swim underwater without moving their arms," he explained.
VIDEO: Meet Winter the Dolphin and Her Prosthetic Tail
Event: Equestrian They may not be pretty, but parasitic horse flies could outlast any human rider during equestrian events. These parasitic flies sink their knife-like mandibles into horses and other animals in order to drink blood.
NEWS: Sex-Deprived Flies Drink More
Event: Long jump Tiny crustaceans called copepods were recently named the world’s best animal jumpers. They leap with greater muscle power than kangaroos, frogs and all other impressive animal jumpers. According to Thomas Kiorboe, a professor in the Oceanography Section at the Technical University of Denmark’s National Institute for Aquatic Resources, copepods can accelerate to 500 body lengths per second when they perform an escape jump away from countless underwater predators. "The trick is that copepods, unlike most other animals, have two different propulsion systems: one for swimming and one for jumping," Kiorboe explained to Discovery News.
VIDEO: See a copepod perform its medaling jumps!
Event: Wrestling Human wrestlers would be squashed in minutes if they dared to take on a polar bear in wrestling. Polar bears, which can weigh up to 1,500 pounds, are good at this activity too, since play-fighting is common among males. Actual fighting, which takes place during the mating season, can become intense, often resulting in scars and broken teeth.
VIDEO: Global Warming is Affecting Polar Bears: See How
Event: Fencing Like sword-wielding fencers, lobsters often use their claws to fight with each other. That's one reason why the claws of lobsters are rubber-banded closed in fish market tanks.
BLOG: Are lobsters getting more colorful?
Event: Shooting Skunks don't shoot bullets, but they can shoot their unbelievably smelly spray up to 15 feet. Even if that didn't beat the distance of a human shooter, the skunk could probably win anyway, by quickly emptying the field.
WIDE ANGLE: Follow the Olympics with Discovery News!
It might be tempting to portray professional athletes as "dumb jocks," but new research proves that experienced soccer players have impressive brain functioning and executive-level cognitive skills.
Researchers at Brunel University in London were trying to determine what makes one soccer player better than another, particularly at anticipating and responding to another player's moves, CNN.com reports.
To find out, the researchers placed 39 players of different experience and skill levels in functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) scanners. The fMRI machines were outfitted with video monitors showing video clips of a soccer player dribbling a ball toward the players whose brains were being scanned.
Each player was then asked, while watching the videos, to decide how they would respond to the other player's moves, while the fMRI recorded their brain activity. (In soccer, players often try to "fake" a move to throw off a competing player, pretending they're about to kick the ball to the left, for example, while actually planning on kicking it to the right.)
The study, which was published in the Journal of Sport and Exercise Psychology, revealed that soccer players with greater experience and skill levels were far more accurate at predicting the on-screen player's moves.
According to the report's authors, the better players showed more activity in the areas of the brain associated with high-level executive functioning and eye-muscle coordination than did the brains of less-experienced players.
"Our neuroimaging data clearly shows greater activation of motor and related structures in the brains of expert footballers, compared to novices, when taking part in a football-related anticipation task," Daniel Bishop, lead author of the study, said in a statement.
This report adds to a growing body of knowledge about the inner workings of talented athletes' brains. A study from Scientific Reports found that professional athletes process complex visual scenes faster than amateur athletes, and much faster than nonathletes.
Will brain researchers soon be part of the training squad at elite sports organizations? Perhaps, Bishop told CNN.com. "I can see top teams employing neuroscientists in the future."
"We believe this greater level of neural activity is something that can be developed through high-quality training, so the next step will be to look at how the brain can be trained over time to anticipate the moves of opponents," Bishop said in a statement.
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