Dinosaurs at the Olympics

How Would Dinosaurs Cope in Olympic Events?

With the London Olympics starting, the thirtieth running of the modern Olympiad and the third time that London has hosted the games, we can expect to see a number of records broken over the next sixteen days or so.  Team Great Britain has the most number of athletes taking part but what would happen if we allowed dinosaurs to compete in certain events.

Take for example gymnastics.  Although most of the general public would not think of dinosaurs as natural gymnasts some species may have been very at home on gymnastics apparatus. An agile Dromaeosaur such as a Velociraptor, the tiny Bambiraptor, or even a flying Microraptor could excel at a number of gymnastic disciplines.  Granted the floor exercises may prove a little difficult, but as palaeontologists believe that one of the roles of feathers on these animals was for visual display, we could be treated to a “Dromaeosaur dance” featuring lots of leaping, flapping of arms and bobbing about.  Forward rolls and hand springs would most likely be beyond even the most agile of these small, lightweight dinosaurs but from studies of their leg bones, they could certainly run faster than a human gymnast and they could probably jump very high.  These dinosaurs had an excellent sense of balance and some of them were probably capable climbers at home in the trees, so the parallel bars would prove no obstacle.

Giganotosaurus would have made an excellent super-heavyweight weight lifter.  Its arms were more powerful, longer and stronger than most other meat-eating dinosaurs except the Spinosaurids.  Palaeontologists estimate that its jaws were so strong and its neck muscles so powerful that it could pick up and carry a medium sized dinosaur in its mouth.  According to the Guinness Book of World Records (2012 edition) the world record for the snatch in the 105 plus kilogrammes weight category for men is an incredible 213 kilogrammes achieved by Hossein Rezazadeh (Iran).  Although Giganotosaurus is much heavier (about 75 times as heavy), scientists have estimated that it could have picked up more than a tonne with its super-strong  jaws.

Dinosaurs Compared with Athletes

Medal winners amongst the Dinosauria

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

Podium Image Credit: Svilen Milev at: Svilen Milev’s website

Turning to track and field, one of the most keenly anticipated Olympic events is the men’s one hundred metres.  The Olympic champion and current world record holder is Usain Bolt of Jamaica.  The Jamaican sprinter covered one hundred metres in an astonishing time of 9.58 seconds in Berlin on the 16th of August 2009.  This means that he would have averaged something like 23.35 miles per hour over the course of that race.  Compared to most dinosaurs this is pretty quick.  For example, an adult T. rex running in a straight line with a running start would probably complete a one hundred metres race in approximately13.5 seconds.  A Diplodocus, a huge, plant-eating dinosaur, despite having an enormous neck with which it could break the tape at the finishing line would have probably taken more than fifty seconds to cover the distance, not withstanding the fact that it would probably have stopped to graze on the infield area along the way.

The real speed kings of the Dinosauria were the Ornithomimids.  Ornithomimids (known as “bird mimics”) were Theropod dinosaurs related to the likes of T. rex but anatomically similar to modern, ground-dwelling birds.  With a light, compact skeleton and long hind legs these animals were very fast runners.  Estimates of how fast these dinosaurs were vary.  However, based on Ornithomimid tracks found in the United States, palaeontologists estimate that these reptiles may have been capable of bursts of speed up to sixty kilometres an hour, that is race horse speed.   An Ornithomimid could therefore complete the one hundred metres in something like six to eight seconds, given the time it would have taken for this animal to get into top gear.

To read an article about how fast dinosaurs could run compared with humans and other animals: T. rex could run faster than a footballer

Competing in the swimming events may have proved more difficult for the Dinosauria.  Dinosaurs could swim just like most vertebrates, but whether or not they liked getting out of their depth is  a different matter.  They would have been limited to a single stroke – their form of doggy paddle and a several tonne dinosaur would not have been very streamlined in the water but thanks to one remarkable trace fossil discovered in Spain we do know that some dinosaurs did take to the water.  A fossilised track-way discovered in Spain records the moment in Jurassic history when a large, carnivorous dinosaur (possibly an Allosaurid) swam across a body of water.  Every now and then this huge, bipedal dinosaur put a foot on the bottom and pushed itself off again.  The likes of Rebecca Adlington, Michael Phelps and Ryan Lochte may be faster, but would you fancy going into the pool with a two tonne Allosaurus in the next lane?

To read more about the remarkable Spanish trace fossils: Swimming Dinosaurs

With thirty-six sports and something like a total of three hundred and four medal events it is likely that the Dinosauria might well have found one or two to excel in.  After all, if they were warm-blooded just as we mammals they were probably far more active and agile than previously thought.

2 Responses to “Dinosaurs at the Olympics”

  1. Random Guy says:

    I’d like to know which dinosaur would do best at the long jump/high jump events. Probably dromaeosaurs in both cases, and as Utahraptor and Achillobator have relatively short legs for the group, I’d award the high jump title to Deinonychus.

    As for the long jump, one of the little ones with the four-winged look would be best, although that might be considered cheating.

    • Mike says:

      Good question, it is difficult to say but the dinosaurs you have mentioned are probably all contenders. If you widen the “field” to include Pterosaurs then some of the largest flying reptiles may have challenged, after all, some palaeontologists have speculated that the giant Azhdarchids such as Quetzalcoatlus may have “pole-vaulted” themselves into the air.

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