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Built for Speed

Animals would prove fierce competitors at the Olympics — if only they would stay in their lanes

4:00pm, August 1, 2008

At 8 a.m., before the day turns shirt-clinging muggy, bystanders gather in hopes of seeing some of the world’s really fast runners, soon to appear on the outdoor course for training sprints. A boy a bit bigger than his backpack fidgets against the railing, but the rest of the small crowd stands quietly, cameras ready. From behind a grassy rise on the far side of the course comes the slamming of metal doors, and suddenly the runners lope into sight, their long yellow tails kinked behind them.

Travel costs being what they are these days, this report on what makes an athlete extraordinary is not brought to you from Beijing. Instead, a $1.35 fare (off-peak) on the Washington, D.C., subway leads from the Science News offices to the grounds of Smithsonian’s National Zoo.

That’s fine actually. The zoo has the better athletes by far. In this assemblage of contestants in a physiologist’s fantasy Olympics, plenty of species can outrun, outdistance, out-h

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