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Play now 45 mins


45 minutes
First broadcast:
Saturday 21 July 2012

Why is it that so many long distance runners are from Kenya? Is it genetics that leads to the high performance we can expect to see in the London Olympics? Or maybe the stamina of the world's best athletes is above all about their mental attitude, the ability to deliver excellence, no matter what?

Just some of the aspects of endurance we are exploring on the Forum this week with high-performance anthropologist Rasmus Ankersen. Also on the programme, award winning photographer Rachel Sussman takes us hunting for the longest living organisms on Earth. And endurance that dwarfs anything found on our planet: the mind boggling staying power of the stars in the sky. The UK's Public Astronomer Marek Kukula is our cosmic guide.

Illustration by Emily Kasriel: the race to endure for sports people, stars and other forms of life.


4 items
  • Rasmus Ankersen

    Rasmus Ankersen

    After an injury stopped Rasmus Ankersen from fulfilling his dreams on the football pitch, he set up Scandinavia’s first football academy and became fascinated by what it is that makes people into top sporting successes. So he set off round the world to visit places with reputations for turning out disproportionate numbers of top athletes in various fields: from female golfers in South Korea to long-distance runners in Kenya.

  • Rachel Sussman

    Rachel Sussman

    Photographer Rachel Sussman has also been travelling the world but she has been looking for a different sort of endurance: she tracks down and photographs the oldest continuously living organisms, some of them in the most inhospitable places on Earth. Below are her pictures of the two organisms that are currently thought to hold the longevity record: Siberian Actinobacteria, living underground in the permafrost, clocking in between 400,000 and 600,000 years old; and a 100,000-year-old sea grass meadow near the Balearic Islands.

    Photo credit: Laura Holder

  • Rachel Sussman - Sea Grass

    Rachel Sussman - Sea Grass

    Posidonia Oceania Sea Grass #0910-P1000753 (100,000 years old; Balearic Islands, Spain)

    Photo credit: Rachel Sussman

  • Rachel Sussman - Bacteria

    Rachel Sussman - Bacteria

    Siberian Actinobacteria #tV-26 (400,000 - 600,000 years old; Neils Bohr Institute, Copenhagen)

    Photo credit: Rachel Sussman

  • Marek Kukula

    Marek Kukula

    Marek Kukula is the Public Astronomer at the Royal Observatory in Greenwich in East London. His task is to make sure the Observatory’s exhibitions, talks and planetarium shows accurately reflect the latest findings in astronomy. He explains why big stars have significantly shorter life spans than small ones and why even the most ancient stars are not the oldest thing we can see in the universe.


    Marek Kukula wants to replace old inefficient streetlights all over the planet with modern, efficient designs which only put the light where it’s needed, down on the streets, instead of wasting it by shining it up into the sky. We would still have safe, well lit streets but for the first time in decades people in towns and cities would be able to look up and see the wonder of the night sky. And it’s not just would-be star gazers who would benefit: migrating birds and animals would be able to navigate more easily again, using the Moon and stars.

  • In Next Week’s Programme

    In the first of a series of special programmes about the big challenges of our age, the former Irish president Mary Robinson presets a show about Inequality. She is joined by British Nobel prize winner John Sulston, Bangladeshi novelist Tahmima Anam, Oxford professor Lawrence Goldman, and the audience gathered at one of the great debating places in London, the Royal Society of Arts.



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