Lamont Marcell Jacobs shocked himself and the world when he became the first Italian man to win the 100m Olympic gold medal after a thrilling race in the Tokyo Olympics Stadium on Sunday.
As well as setting a new European record of 9.80 seconds, Jacobs is the first European to win gold in the coveted men’s 100m since Linford Christie in 1992.
It was an unforgettable night for Italy, who also picked up an unexpected gold in the men’s high jump. Moments before Jacobs ran into the record books, his compatriot and friend Gianmarco Tamberi had agreed to share gold with Qatari Mutaz Essa Barshim after both athletes were unable to better each other after several hours of fierce competition in the men’s high jump.
And it was the charismatic Tamberi who was waiting just around the curve beyond 100m finishing line to celebrate with Jacobs as he brought it home. As the new 100m champion slowed from his victory, both men embraced, ecstatic and jubilant, as history was made for Italy.
Jacobs said that Tamberi’s victory had given him a boost in the final.
"When I got to Gianmarco we support each other,” said Jacobs after the win. “It's been my dream since I was a child. I need a week or so to understand what has happened. Seeing Gimbo (Tamberi) win the high jump gold fired me up a lot."
Jacobs had started strongly yet far from in front. The Americans, Fred Kerley and Ronnie Baker, led up until the 50 metre mark, but by the halfway point the Italian had found the throttle that had brought him 60m gold in the European Indoor Championships this year. He burst through the field in the final third to take the win, setting a new Italian and European record and leaving Kerley to take silver and Canada’s Andre De Grasse with bronze.
For Texas-born Jacobs, who moved to Europe with his Italian mother as a baby, winning the Olympic 100m title had been his dream since he was a child.
"I don’t know, it’s a dream, a dream, it is fantastic. Maybe tomorrow I can imagine what they are saying, but today it is incredible," Jacobs said.
With Jamaican superstar and world record holder Usain Bolt out of the picture, as well as big names like Yohan Blake and Justin Gatlin, it was an opportunity for a new name to emerge in the men’s fastest sprint.
A strong semi-final performance by China’s Bingtian Su, who set a new Asian record of 9.83, had him pegged as a possible champion, and many had anticipated Rio 2016 bronze medalist De Grasse to capitalise on the inexperience in the field.
However, Su never recovered from his slower start, and despite a late surge by De Grasse earning him a new personal best, it wasn’t enough to improve on the Canadian’s Olympic standings. He added a second 100m bronze medal (third in total) to his collection as the 26-year-old Italian lay claim to the gold.
"I'm really happy with the personal best. It was a good race. Everyone ran very well so I'm really just happy to be back on the podium again," De Grasse, 26, said.
"I feel like every year I'm just getting better. With the personal best I feel like I have still got a good shot for next year and for the next Olympics."
In one of the most open fields in recent Olympic sprinting history, it was a disappointing night for Great Britain’s Zharnel Hughes, whose blatant false-start disqualification echoed that of Christie’s infamous 1996 final blunder.
The first Briton in the men’s 100m final for 21 years said he was heartbroken after the race. Hughes later explained that it was a cramp in his calf that spurred him to move before the starter sound.
For Jacobs, who only switched to sprinting from long jump in 2018, it may take a while for the achievement to sink in.
"I need a week or so to understand what has happened," he said. "I've won an Olympic gold after Usain Bolt, it's unbelievable. Tonight, staring at the ceiling, perhaps I will realise."