Top Speed

Written by Thomas Godwin
Updated: May 1, 2023
Image Credit © ARVD73/


Top speed is generally thought of in terms of vehicles, with the current land speed record, in a vehicle, set at over 760 mph and the flight speed record at 2,193.2 mph. However, scientists often record top speeds on several animals and humans set land records in competitive races worldwide.

Top Speed: Humans

Runner Usain Bolt, now retired, set the top running speed record in 2009, reaching 27.33 mph. It was a 100-yard sprint, so his overall speed of 23.35 is the speed most people see today in history books. Competitive runners have what scientists call, “fast-twitch fibers,” which provides a competitive advantage.

Usain Bolt lacks the body size for what scientists define as the correct stature for a top-speed runner. However, he continues to defy the odds. Several variations affect human speed, including clothing, shoes, weight, strength, endurance, and genetics. Most are controllable but genetics are not.

Rear view of an athlete starting his sprint on an all-weather running track. Runner using starting block to start his run on race track.
Many factors impact a runner’s speed — some are variable, and some are not.

©Jacob Lund/


The fastest land animal in the world is the cheetah. Cheetahs frequently reach speeds well over 60 mph and, while they’re the fastest, other animals are fairly fast themselves. Brown hares reach speeds up to 50 mph and they’re quite small compared to cheetahs.

Wildebeests are prey to African lions, but they run much faster than lions, reaching speeds of 50 mph in a straight line. Lions can catch wildebeests by cornering them or forcing them to turn into other lions within the pride.

The pronghorn antelope is capable of challenging cheetahs, often hitting top speeds of 60 mph. If a cheetah wants to bring one down, it has to be at the top of its game.

animals unique to North America:pronghorn
Pronghorn antelopes are one of the fastest animals on the planet.



Birds are much faster than animals and fish. Many birds are faster than cars, especially large birds, such as the frigate bird. Frigate birds are capable of flying nearly 100 mph, while the peregrine falcon dives at speeds exceeding 200 mph.

The spur-winged goose is quite large, yet it casually flies well over 80 mph. Most birds that dive for their prey reach incredible speeds, though they are no longer using their method of propulsion. Instead, they understand the benefits of aerodynamics and gravity.


Fish have an extreme disadvantage compared to humans and birds since they have to work against water rather than air. Fortunately, some of the fastest fish is well-equipped for lightning-fast travel through the water. There is no single consensus on which fish is the fastest, however.

It boils down to competition among sailfish, swordfish, and marlin. Sailfish swim well over 60 mph and leap out of the water close to 70 mph. Some argue that swordfish often reach 80 mph and marlin aren’t far behind that.

The next fastest fish falls way down the ladder in terms of speed. Wahoos are capable of reaching nearly 50 mph through the water and tuna are just a shade behind that.

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About the Author

Thomas is a freelance writer with an affinity for the great outdoors and Doberman Pinschers. When he's not sitting behind the computer, pounding out stories on black bears and reindeer, he's spending time with his family, two Dobermans (Ares and Athena), and a Ragdoll cat named Heimdal. He also tends his Appleyard Ducks and a variety of overly curious and occasionally vexatious chickens.