Man vs Cheetah: 2 of NFL’s fastest players race against world’s fastest land mammals (PHOTOS & VIDEO)
Ever wondered if a super-fast football player could outrun a cheetah?
NatGeo Wild has turned this hypothetical question into a one-hour documentary called Man v Cheetah, which premieres tonight at 9pm as part of the network’s Big Cat Week.
The wild battle of speed and endurance was staged several months ago at Busch Gardens Tampa in Florida, pitting two of America’s fastest NFL players against a pair of cheetahs.
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Jenny Apostol, the executive producer of the program, told Tampa Bay Times she and her team ‘had no idea what was going to happen’ when they invited Tennessee Titans running back Chris Johnson and Chicago Bears kick returner Devin Hester to go head-to-head with the fastest land mammals on earth.
On paper, the bipedal runners appear to be at a clear disadvantage compared to the lightning-fast big cats that can go from 0 to 60 mph in 3 seconds.
In the past, Johnson and Hester have clocked 4.24 seconds and 4.4 seconds, respectively, in the 40-yard dash, while cheetahs Jenna and Nave have reached speeds of 62 mph.
For comparison, Olympic sprinter Usain Bolt, widely regarded as the fastest person ever, set a world record in 2009 by clocking 9.58-seconds in the 100-meter dash – more than 27 mph.
For the epic race held in May, NatGeo constructed a 220-foot-long course at Busch Gardens’ Cheetah Run with a 10-foot-tall barrier wall separating the human runners from their feline counterparts, Jenna and Nave.
Hester and Johnson could not see their furry foes but ran simultaneously in one-on-one heats.
Johnson told USA Today that when he was approached by NatGeo with the idea to race a cheetah, he did not hesitate.
The doubts came later when the 191-pound running back arrived at the track and found out that the show’s producers had to build a higher barrier because one of the cheetah had leaped over the first one.
Hester said during filming that in a worst-case scenario, he was hoping to outrun his four-legged rival.
Some 20 video cameras were installed along the track to capture the action from every angle.
The filming was unscripted and shot in a single take so as not to exhaust the animals, according to the show’s producer.
To give the NFL players a fair shot, NatGeo set up the races in such a way that the runners had to sprint back and forth and rapidly change directions – something that may be tricky for an animal, RedEye Chicago reported.
Busch Gardens Tampa has a total of five cheetahs in its collection. Their handlers exercise the critters every day by making them chase a lure on a pulley to keep them fit and healthy.
Jenna and Nave were born in 2010 in De Wildt, South Africa, and came to Busch Gardens in 2011. Jenna weighs 90lbs, while Nave tips the scales at 85lbs