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The kangaroo takes the gold?

I've run the New York City Marathon three times and seen some strange characters: a runner carrying a cake; a guy with a bottle of champagne and glasses; my boss; and, a small man in a suit and dress shoes, who, I am embarrassed to say, ran faster than me.

But I never saw a kangaroo.

That's a good thing, because according to Discover magazine, the animal would have beaten me and every other human on the planet in the 26.2-mile race. It would finish in less than 90 minutes, while the best human marathoners would arrive about 40 minutes later.

That fact is part of a fun story in the August issue that answers the burning question: What if animals competed in the Olympics? Answer: We'd lose most of the running, gymnastics and swimming events.

The cheetah, which can run up to 60 mph, would win all the running events from 100 meters to 1,500 meters. The cheetah would put up some awesome numbers: 16 seconds in the 400 meters (versus 43 or so for humans); 32 seconds in the 800 meters (1:42 or so for us); and, about a minute for the 1,500 meters (we've practically seemed to be crawling in even if the world record of 3:27.37 was broken).

The gibbon, a small Asian monkey, takes gymnastics (although we don't know if it would have the guts of Kerri Strug _ I bet it would pass on the second vault). The barracuda, sprinting along at 45 mph, beats our swimmers, who at best move along 4 or 5 mph.

The good news is we would take the field, basketball, baseball and shooting events (thank God, or evolution, for our opposable thumbs). And we might even take the cheetah's candy (or the small, defenseless animals it probably prefers) in longer track races like the 5,000 meters.

Seems the cheetah is a fly-and-die kind of guy. It goes out real fast for 1,500 meters, then has to take a long rest. We'd catch up, and the cheetah would still be dozing as our runner crosses the line somewhere around 13 minutes.

Take that, spotted boy.

Aspirin and breast cancer

Aspirin is already linked to lower risks for heart disease and development of cancerous tumors in the colon. But hopes that regular use would protect women from breast cancer were dashed this month.

Earlier animal and human studies suggested aspirin might lower your risk of breast cancer, but a large study of female nurses with breast cancer showed it had no apparent effect. The research was published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute.

Still, an editorial in the same issue of the journal urged more research. The nurses in the study might have started and stopped using aspirin, so a study of regular, continued use might show it has a protective effect, the editorial says.

Weightlessness affects pregnancy

Latest thing for pregnant women to worry about: You probably shouldn't go into outer space.

Apparently this warning results from a study of pregnant rats that flew on the space shuttle. Psychobiologists at Indiana University say the astro-rats needed twice as many contractions to have their babies as rats who didn't take the trip into outer space. The researchers suggest the mothers' muscles were weakened by weightlessness.

But once they were born, the rats developed normally. We don't know, however, if they preferred Tang to orange juice.

Discovering other media

The Merck Manual, a reference book for medical professionals, is now online at http://www.merck.com/. It's technical but interesting . . . Scary thought of the day: "Imagine . . . fleets of molecular assemblers that churn out essential commodities without human labor." That's from the book cover of Nano: The Emerging Science of Nanotechnology by Ed Regis (Little, Brown and Co., $14.95).

Compiled from wire reports and other sources. Contact John A. Cutter at the Times, P.O. Box 1121, St. Petersburg, FL 33731. Fax: (813) 892-2327; e-mail: cuttersptimes.com.

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