Sperm competition occurs when sperm from more than one male compete for fertilizations. This form of post-copulatory sexual selection is recognized as a significant and widespread force in the evolution of male reproductive biology and as a key determinant of differential male reproductive success. Despite its importance, however, detailed mechanisms of sperm competition at the gamete level remain poorly understood. Here, we use natural variation in spermatozoal traits among wild Atlantic salmon (Salmo salar), a species naturally adapted to sperm competition, to examine how the relative influences of sperm (i) number, (ii) velocity, (iii) longevity, and (iv) total length determine sperm competition success. Atlantic salmon fertilize externally, and we were therefore able to conduct controlled in vitro fertilization competitions while concurrently measuring spermatozoal traits within the aqueous micro-environment to which salmon gametes are naturally adapted. Microsatellite DNA fingerprinting revealed that a male's relative sperm velocity was the primary determinant of sperm competition success. There was no significant relationship between fertilization success and either relative sperm number or total length; sperm longevity showed an inverse relationship with competition success. These relationships were consistent for two experimental repeats of the in vitro fertilization competitions. Our results therefore show, under the natural microenvironment for salmon gametes, that relative sperm velocity is a key spermatozoal component for sperm competition success. Atlantic salmon sperm can be considered to enter a competition analogous to a race in which the fastest sperm have the highest probability of success.