Usain Bolt Wouldn
Move over, Usain Bolt—the world record for fastest 100-meter dash is unbeatable. By a human, that is. Earlier this summer an 11-year-old cheetah named Sarah shattered Bolt’s fastest time. She covered the distance in 5.95 seconds, whereas the Jamaican Olympic champion’s fastest time 9.58 seconds.
Her top speed was clocked at a jaw-dropping 61 miles per hour. Sarah, who lives at the Cincinnati Zoo, shattered her own 2009 record, when she covered 100 meters in 6.13 seconds. The previous record holder was a male South African cheetah named Nyana, who posted 6.19 seconds in 2001.
Sarah and four other cheetahs from the zoo were photographed and filmed as part of a project that will be featured in the November issue of National Geographic Magazine. I'll include never-before-seen high speed photographs of cheetah movement. National Geographic’s Big Cat’s Initiative helped fund the documentation of the run.
Cheetahs, the fastest land animal, can cover 20-plus feet in one stride—about the same distance as a racehorse.
But even these speed demons can’t outrun every threat: the endangered cat's global population has dropped from some 100,000 individuals in 1900 to an estimated 9,000 to 12,000 cheetahs today. In addition to raising awareness about cheetahs, the Cincinnati Zoo also has a captive breeding program, through which 64 cheetah cubs have been born.
As for Sarah’s recent remarkable race, there’s no question about its validity: the specially designed course was certified by the Road Running Technical Council of USA Track & Field.
Usain Bolt might not be able to outrun Sarah, but that doesn’t mean she’s invincible. She’s a well-fed cat that was chasing a fluffy dog toy lure. Her wild, hungry relatives almost certainly run faster (chasing down a gazelle, for instance).
"This is just for fun, as far as they're concerned," Cathryn Hilker, founder of the Cincinnati Zoo's Cat Ambassador Program, who helped raise Sarah from a cub, told National Geographic News. "They know they're going to get fed. They can see the finish line."
And as for Usain Bolt, he'll race his human counterparts this weekend. The 100 has four stages spread over two days, starting with the preliminaries tomorrow morning and ending with the final on Sunday evening.