(OLYMPIC GAMES) With the 2012 London Olympics coming to an end, the world has seen some of the best athletes in the world win awards for their amazing feats. But humans aren’t always the best athletes. Jamaican sprinter Usain Bolt might be known as the fastest man, but he still can’t outrun a cheetah! Read on for the International Union for Conservation of Nature‘s list of the gold medallists in the animal kingdom. — Global Animal

Event: High Jump

Common froghopper (Philaenus spumarius)

Photo credit: John a.k.a Gio via Flickr

This insect, which is common throughout Britain, has developed an extraordinary jump that allows it to leap out of the way of predators or animals grazing on the plants they call home. The force a Common Froghopper exerts at take-off is 400 times their body weight and the highest jumpers can reach 700mm–115 times their body length—which is like a human jumping 200m! This species has not yet been assessed for The IUCN Red List.[divider]

Event: Artistic Gymnastics 

Agile Gibbon (Hylobates agilis)

Photo credit: Carlota.B via Flickr

Gibbons are famous for their graceful gymnastic movements that parallel the agility of gymnasts performing on the uneven bars. Living in forests in Sumatra, Peninsular Malaysia and south Thailand, the Agile Gibbon moves from tree to tree by moving its forearms alternately to swing between branches. There are currently 16 species of gibbon on The IUCN Red List and the Agile Gibbon is listed as Endangered.[divider]

Event: Archery

Smallscale Archerfish (Toxotes microlepis)

Photo credit: Makuahine Pa’i Ki’i

Archerfish shoot down land based insects (flying insects or insects on branches) and other small animals with water shot from their specialized mouths. This species is found in Southeast Asia along the shores of flowing or standing fresh or brackish water with overhanging vegetation. The Smallscale Archerfish is listed as Least Concern on The IUCN Red List.[divider]

Event: Boxing

European Hare (Lepus europaeus)

Photo credit: wildlifepictures.se via Flickr

The European Hare mating season peaks in spring during a time called “March Madness.” Females choose their partners according to their strength by “boxing” with them—when females and males stand on their hind legs and hit each other with their paws. As females are slightly larger than males, only strong males impress the females and get the chance to mate. The European Hare is listed as Least Concern on The IUCN Red List.[divider]

Event: Diving

Peregrine Falcon (Falco peregrinus)

Photo credit: Dom Greves via Flickr

One of the fastest species in the world, the Peregrine Falcon can reach up to 200mph (320km/h) when diving through the sky in hot pursuit of its prey. The fastest ever dive recorded was 242mph (390km/h). Found across the globe except in Antarctica, this species is listed as Least Concern on The IUCN Red List. [divider]

Event: Equestrian

Yellow-billed Oxpecker (Buphagus africanus) and Red-billed Oxpecker (Buphagus erythrorhynchus)

Photo credit: Rainbirder

Oxpeckers are two species of bird that ride on the backs of African grazing mammals, eating ticks and other parasites living on their host. The relationship between oxpeckers and the mammals they perch on is generally beneficial to both, but may be detrimental to the mammals in some cases. The Yellow-billed Oxpecker and Red-billed Oxpecker are both listed as Least Concern on the IUCN Red List.[divider]

Event: Javelin

Indian Crested Porcupine (Hystrix indica)

Photo credit: StefanKoeder via Flickr

Porcupines may have javelin-like spines, but unlike Olympic athletes they do not hurl them through the air. The porcupine’s spines help it to regulate its temperature and are also used for defense. When it feels threatened, a porcupine will raise its quills to make itself look bigger. The Indian Crested Porcupine is recorded in Turkey and the eastern Mediterranean through southwest and central Asia (including Afghanistan and Turkmenistan) to Pakistan, India, Nepal, China and Sri Lanka and is listed as Least Concern on The IUCN Red List.[divider]

Event: Marathon

Arctic Tern (Sterna paradisaea)

Photo credit: mizmak via Flickr

This bird migrates from the high Arctic where it breeds in summer to its Antarctic wintering grounds each year—with some individuals flying more than 80,000km annually! During their lives, Arctic Terns, which can live for more than 30 years, travel a distance that is equivalent to approximately three return journeys to the moon and back. The Arctic Tern is listed as Least Concern on The IUCN Red List.[divider]

Event: Sailing


Sailfish (Istiophorus platypterus)

Photo credit: Rob Hughes via Flickr

Sailfish have a large dorsal fin which has the appearance of a sail, hence its name. The fin runs along the length of its body and when extended, it is taller than the width of the body. The Atlantic population of the Sailfish is sometimes referred to as Istiophorus albicans, while the Indo-Pacific population is called Istiophorus platypterus, but there is no genetic evidence to indicate they are two separate species. The Sailfish is listed as Least Concern on The IUCN Red List.[divider]

Event: Shooting

Himalayan Balsam (Impatiens glandulifera)

Photo credit: Maggie_94 via Flickr

The ripe fruits of the Himalayan Balsam open explosively with a popping sound, ‘shooting’ the seeds to some distance. A prolific seed producer, each plant produces about 2,500 seeds and its dispersal technique helps the plant colonize new areas. Native to the Himalayas, but naturalized in Europe and elsewhere, it tends to become an invasive species and out-compete other plants. It has not yet been assessed for The IUCN Red List.[divider]

Event: Shot Put

Lammergeier (Gypaetus barbatus)

Photo credit: Sergey Yeliseev via Flickr

The Lammergeier, also known as a Bearded Vulture, is a bird of prey and one of the largest of the old world vultures. This bird wins the prize for shot put because it drops large bones from great heights in order to shatter them and eat the nutritious marrow inside. This species can be found in ranges from southern Europe through the Middle East to northeastern China, and also occurs in parts of north, east and southern Africa. The Lammergeier is listed as Least Concern on The IUCN Red List.[divider]

Event: Sprinting

Cheetah (Acinonyx jubatus)

Photo credit: ShootNFish via Flickr

The Cheetah is the fastest land mammal in the world and can reach speeds of up to 70mph (113km/h) in short sprints. In comparison, Usain Bolt, the fastest human sprinter, can reach a speed of 27.7mph (44.6km/h). Listed as Vulnerable on the IUCN Red List, this species is found across Africa, with a subspecies (Acinonyx jubatus venaticus) in Iran that is listed as Critically Endangered.[divider]

Event: Rhythmic Gymnastics

Birds-of-paradise (Paradisaeidae family)

Photo credit: random house via Flickr

Birds-of-paradise are famous for their colourful feathers and dance-like displays which are reminiscent of gymnasts in their brightly coloured leotards. Male birds-of-paradise compete for the attention of females in courtship behaviour known as “lekking.” Lekking involves males, either individually or in groups, showing off their feathers, hopping, head bopping and shaking their delicate long streamer-like plumage. If a male manages to impress a female he is rewarded with an opportunity to mate. Found in Papua New Guinea and Indonesia, there are 40 species of birds-of-paradise in the family Paradisaeidae listed on The IUCN Red List of which three, Black Sicklebill (Epimachus fastuosus), Blue Bird-of-paradise (Paradisaea rudolphi) and Wahnes’s Parotia (Parotia wahnesi) are listed as threatened.[divider]

Event: Triathlon

Galapagos Marine Iguana (Amblyrhynchus cristatus)

Photo credit: A. Davey via Flickr

You won’t see this species riding a bike, but the Galapagos Marine Iguana is the only lizard in the world that you will see running on land and swimming beneath the ocean waves. In pursuit of marine algae to eat, large males are capable of swimming to depths of 20m and staying underwater for 30 minutes. After feeding in the cold seawater, marine iguanas sunbath on land to warm up again. The Galapagos Marine Iguana is listed as Vulnerable on The IUCN Red List.[divider]

Event: Weightlifting

Rhinoceros Beetle (Xyloryctes thestalus)

Photo credit: kevin.j via Flickr

This beetle is able to carry loads of more than 30 times its body mass and is among the strongest animals on earth. In comparison, the heaviest individual weight lifted by a human in an Olympic competition was 263.5kg by Hossein Rezazadeh, a weight that was about one and a half times his own bodyweight and equivalent to lifting four average-sized people. Found in Arizona, New Mexico and Mexico, this species has not yet been assessed for The IUCN Red List.[divider]

More IUCN: http://www.iucn.org/news_homepage/?10556/Gold-medalists-of-the-natural-world