My son thinks up these impossible what if questions. They are impossible. I pay him no mind.

In the Olympics, athletes compete against each other in the same events. But, as an engineer, always trying to improve things, I get thinking sometimes about improvements we could make to the various sports. Can we combine running with swimming and bicycling? They already have it – the triathlon.

OK. How about this. Let’s race a human – an Olympic athlete – against a bicyclist and against a horse. If they were going the same distance, that would obviously be unfair. But if we take the average speed of a human for, say, 1000 meters, then take the time of that run and set the horse and bicyclist out at the distance that their average speed would take them in the same amount of time, then we could race the human running, the horse galloping, and bicyclist cycling. It would all be done with rates of speed, precise distances, and timing to the hundredth of a second. It sounds a bit odd, but it would give the engineer calculations to perform and distances to lay out. He could write up a report on it and submit it to…

All right. It has been done. When I was a kid, my parents, uncharacteristically took all their children to the horse races. It was family day and my dad, a math teacher who understood odds, only bet on the favorite horse to show. We came out 2 or 3 dollars ahead for the evening.

One of the events that headlined the night was a race between – you guessed it – an Olympic champion runner, a bicyclist, and a horse. The Olympic champion was Dave Wottle. In 1972, he won gold, not in his premier event, the 1500m, but in the 800m. Look up the story. It is interesting to read.

So, they placed Dave one distance from a common finish line, the bicyclist further out, and the horse around the curve somewhere. The horse ran valiantly, the bicyclist fell, I think breaking his bike, and embarrassingly landing in some, shall we say, fertilizer. But Dave Wottle won.

A marketer was no doubt behind it, and made sure Dave would win. People liked him. Engineers, code of ethics and all, were likely not to have been consulted. But the engineer could run the numbers, for this race and many like it, making them fair races and using any number of combinations for competitions.

The benefit engineers could have to society if they would only let us stray from providing clean water, electricity, engines, fuel, transportation, wastewater treatment, etc., and provide entertainment for all.