Could water sprinting be the next Olympic sport?

Could water sprinting be the next Olympic sport?

The 2024 Paris Olympics are just around the corner, and the world’s best athletes will compete for gold on the track, road and field. Is there the potential for a new Olympic sport that defies traditional sporting norms? Enter water sprinting – a phenomenon exhibited by basilisks and a bird called the western grebe. Scientists are exploring the idea of ​​whether humans could also achieve this remarkable feat, as reported

western great crested grebewestern great crested grebe
Photo: wikicommons

How do animals do this?

Often called the “Jesus Christ lizard” because of its ability to sprint across water, the basilisk can escape predators by briefly running on the water’s surface. Tonia Hsieha biologist at Harvard University, studied how lizards overcome gravity. Hsieh discovered that when the lizards run, they slap the water with their large feet, creating a force that propels them forward and upward. Hsieh’s research showed that while these lizards can run on water due to their speed and foot size, balance on this constantly changing surface is still a major challenge.

Basilisk LizardBasilisk Lizard
Lizard Photo: Bernard Dupont/wikiCommons

People and running water

The idea of ​​humans being able to race across water at high speeds is tempting, but also challenging. Tom McMahon And Jim Glasheen developed a mathematical model that suggests that in order for a human to walk on water, he would have to hit the water with a force almost 15 times greater than the maximum force we can exert. The basilisk also walks on a yielding surface, unlike humans on a track or road.

More recent experiments have used lower gravity conditions to simulate flowing water. Their results showed that while humans could create a few seconds of flowing water at 10 percent of Earth’s gravity, the speeds and forces required on Earth make this impossible.

Sha’Carri RichardsonSha’Carri Richardson
Sha’Carri Richardson at the 2023 USATF Championships. Photo: Kevin Morris

Sha’Carri Richardson could sprint in space

Titan, Saturn’s moon, offers a possible location for water running. With gravity only 13.8 percent of Earth’s and lakes of liquid ethane, could athletes like Richardson, the current women’s 100-meter champion, run on Titan’s surface? Richardson’s sprinting abilities might allow her to run across Titan’s ethane lakes, but she would have to contend with extremely cold temperatures.

While water running is (at least for now) more of a natural phenomenon that we marvel at than an Olympic event, it does spark the imagination of what might be possible in other environments. As space exploration continues to advance, we may one day see Olympians running across the waters of distant planets.