Haven’t you always wanted to go really, really fast? Most people scratch the itch in vehicles, but not everyone. People are capable of incredible feats of strength, skill, and of course speed. But what makes the fastest person in the world? How do you measure speed? Is it who can run the fastest in a straight line? The top speed someone can achieve? What about lateral speed, or speed over long distances? In this article we’ll explore the fastest people in the world, looking at athletes that compete in a number of sports, terrains, and distances. You might be surprised by what you find.
1) Usain Bolt
The gold standard in speed is Usain Bolt. Even his name suggests he was predestined to become widely considered the fastest sprinter in the world, if not the fastest person in the world. Bolt was born in Jamaica in 1986, and dreamed of being a soccer star. However, his speed soon became his calling card when he shattered Waldensia Primary’s 100 meter dash at the age of 12. In high school, coaches Dwayne Jarrett and Pablo McNeil pushed Bolt to focus on running, and he won his first high school championships medal in 2001. The rest as they say, was fastory. Bolt went on to set Olympic records in the 100 meters (9.58 seconds), the 200 meters (19.19), and was on the 4 x 100 meters relay team team that broke 37 seconds (36.84). His 100m record time stands to this day. He retired after the 2017 World Championships, and is generally considered the greatest sprinter of all time. In 2009 between the 60 and 80 meter mark of the 100 meters sprint Bolt was clocked at 27.8 mph, the fastest footspeed on record.
2) Tyreek Hill
Not all of the fastest people in the world get to run unencumbered. Tyreek Hill, a wide receiver for the Kansas City Chiefs, can lay claim to being the fastest person in the world in football pads. Hill hit 22.77 mph while returning a free kick for an 86 yard touchdown this year, breaking his previous record of 21.78, during a 91-yard punt return against the Los Angeles Chargers. He also one-upped the Jacksonville Jaguar’s running back Leonard Fournette, who hit a 22.05 mph top speed last season. Fournette pointed out that combine speed, or speed in a straight line isn’t how to best measure speed in football, which isn’t just a game of straight line speed. Check out Hill’s record breaking run and high five on his way to the end zone below:
3) Leonard Fournette
Speaking of Fournette, he made the list due to his weight. Fournette ran a 4.51 40-yard dash, at 240 pounds. Fournette now weighs between 230 and 240 pounds, and claims he’s never been caught from behind in the open field. “There’s guys who ran 4.4s or whatever else and they’re getting caught from behind in a game. Football speed and track speed is a big difference, man,” Fournette said, describing his blinding speed. In some ways, Bolt being the fastest person in the world at 207 pounds might not be as impressive as weighing nearly 40 pounds more and being weighed down by football pads. His 2017 speed of 22.05 MPH was the previous record in the NFL before Hill broke it. Fournette claims he used to be faster: “I ran faster than that in college,” Fournette told ESPN. “It’s all about getting my legs back under me…I ran like, 23 mph in college, so (I’m just trying to get my old speed back.” Below you can check out Fournette’s 22.05 mph top-speed during his 90-yard touchdown against the Steelers. You can also see Steelers safety hit 21.06 mph in pads in pursuit. Too little, too late.
4) Florence Griffith-Joyner
Not all the fastest people in the world are men. While Bolt believes his records can stand for 15-20 years, Griffith-Joyner’s 10.49 seconds in the 100 meter dash has held strong for 30 years, after she set it in the 1988 Olympic trials in Indianapolis. Known affectionately as Flo-Jo, Griffith-Joyner is considered the fastest woman of all time. She won three gold medals in the 1988 Olympics in Seoul, South Korea (100m, 200m, and 100x4m relay). Fascinatingly, Flo-Jo won the silver medal in 1984 Olympic Games, then stepped back from sprinting, only running part-time and opting out of the 1985 U.S. National Championship. But in 1988, at the age of 29, Flo-Jo participated in the 1988 Olympics, setting her still-standing 100m record. While some try to discredit her record with accusations of steroids, and wind-assistance, you can decide for yourself by watching her record run below:
5) Cristiano Ronaldo
Meet the fastest soccer player in the world. Ronaldo is one of the greatest soccer players of all time, in no small part due to his breakneck speed. Ronaldo reached the highest top-speed in the 2018 World Cup in Russia at 38.6 km/h while playing Spain in a 3-3 tie. Keep in mind, Ronaldo did this while trying to time his run to coincide with a pass from a teammate as he entered the box. He didn’t run in a straight line, and he was 32-years-old at the time. The fastest person in the world comes in all shapes, sizes, and ages. To put this run in perspective, in the 2018 World Cup Luis Advingula, who’s 28, came closest at 33.8 km/h, Belgium striker Romelu Lukaku, 25, hit 32.8 km/h, and Ronaldo’s chief competitor for best soccer player in the world, Lionel Messi, was clocked at a top speed of only 25 km/h. Catch up Messi!
6) Mickey Mantle
Even though he died over 20 years ago, and retired from the MLB in 1968, Mantle will forever be remembered as one of the greatest baseball players to ever live, and perhaps the fastest baseball player in the world. He holds the record for highest career OPS+ (on base plus slugging adjusted for the park and league a player played in) of any center fielder, and also held the highest stolen base percentage of any player at the time of his retirement. Mantle was able to keep such a stellar stolen base success percentage because of his prodigious speed. The distance between home and first base is 90 feet, making a dash from the plate to first one of the quickest sprints in pro sports. Adding to the difficulty is the sprint usually happens after swinging a bat, and as a right-handed hitter, while the hitter’s momentum is carrying them away from first. As a switch-hitter, Mantle could take advantage of being closer to first when he batted from the left side, but regardless, he was known as the fastest ever from home to first. Legend has it he could run from home to first in 3.1 seconds, and 3 seconds flat from the left.
7) Byron Buxton and Billy Hamilton
In modern baseball, there are two players who carry the flaming torch passed down by the speedy Mantle. The Minnesota Twin’s Byron Buxton averages 30 feet per second on his “max-effort” plays while running the bases, while the Cincinnati Red’s Billy Hamilton is just ahead of him at 30.1 feet per second. To put this in perspective, the low end of baserunners travel only 23 feet per second. While the duo are incredibly fast, they’re still nowhere near Mantle’s 3.1-3 seconds flat to first. In 2016, among trips from home to first from a right-handed batter without a bunt, Buxton set the record at 3.72 seconds on July 15th against the Cleveland Indians. Hamilton, as a left-handed batter (without bunting) holds the record from home to first at 3.61 seconds. The MLB averages were 4.62 and 4.58 respectively. That same year Hamilton set the record for first to third in 5.24 seconds, and home to third in 10.45. Not to be outdone, Buxton set the record for 2016 with a 14.05 second inside-the park home run.
8) Hicham El Guerrouj
What about speed over greater distances? El Guerrouj, a Moroccan middle-distance runner is the current record holder in the 1500 meters, mile, and outdoor 2000 meters. His best times ever were 3:26.00, 3:43.13, and 4:44.79 respectively. There was a time where a sub-4 minute mile was seen as impossible, but El Guerrouj shattered that record. His ability to set records at different distances puts him not just one of the fastest people in the world, but one of the most versatile runners in the world. He competed in races from 800m-5,000m throughout his illustrious career, which ended in 2006, after enjoying his first international win at age 18 in 1992. His speed and longevity will be remembered forever.
9) Bret Maune
Now let’s consider ridiculously long distances, over treacherous terrain. Speed meets endless endurance in the Barkley Marathons. Created by Gary “Lazarus Lake” Cantrell, the Barkley course was inspired by the 1977 escape of James Earl Ray, who escaped from the Brushy Mountain State Penitentiary in Tennessee after killing Martin Luther King Jr. Ray disappeared for 55 hours in the woods near the prison, but was found only 8 hours away. Cantrell, a distance runner who ran in the area thought he could do 100 miles in that amount of time. In 1986, the Barkley Marathons were born. The race is 100 miles, completed in 60 hours or less through an array of brambles, 54,200 feet of climbing and descension, rivers, streams, and a number of other landscapes that hamper their running. Only 15 runners have ever completed the race. In 2011, Brett Maune, a generally unknown distance runner completed the race for the first time, posting a time of 57:13:33. The next year he was back, and set the current record, at 52:03:08, making him the fastest distance marathon runner in the world under challenging conditions.
10) Noah Lyles
So who is currently the fastest person in the world? As you’ve seen, there’s a number of different ways to measure speed, but a strong contender for the title is Noah Lyles, an American sprinter born in Gainesville, Florida in 1997. His personal bests are 9.88 seconds in the 100m dash and 19.65 seconds in the 200m race. His 100m time is exactly three tenths of a second behind Bolt’s world record. Remember, Lyles is just 21, and Bolt didn’t set his record until days before his 23rd birthday. He’d previously set the record at 9.69 seconds the year before, so Lyles will have more chances over the course of his career to potentially break Bolt’s records and become the greatest sprinter of all time. Currently, Lyles is the 300m indoor world record holder with a time of 31.87.
From football to sprinting, baseball to soccer, middle distance to long, we’ve looked at ten of the top candidates for fastest person in the world, both now and all-time. As our species evolves alongside medicine, nutrition and training methods, we’re extremely likely to see new feats of speed, despite the proclamations of Bolt and others. Stay tuned.