Olympic Games

Lamont Jacobs, a flying Italian on Usain Bolt's throne

In a final without Jamaicans, he becomes the first European to win the 100m sprint since 1992

3 min
Lamont Jacobs, el nou monarca dels 100 metres lliures

BarcelonaWithout Usain Bolt, the Jamaicans have elegantly stepped aside from the 100m final. As if after Bolt's three consecutive gold medals, the Caribbean accepted that they had to share the joy. What they probably did not expect was that the new champion would be a European, the Italian Lamont Marcell Jacobs. The first athlete from the old continent to win the 100 meters in decades, since the last one to do so was the British Linford Christie in 1992.

Jacobs has given Italian athletics a night of glory that will be remembered for years and years. Decades from now, having a coffee in the bar of the square, Italians will still remember that Japanese night when, in 5 minutes, they won two gold medals. First, Gianmarco Tamberi in the high jump. Tamberi was waiting at the end of the track to watch the 100m final, to embrace Jacobs. An American surname, but an Italian life, his own. In fact, he is ashamed to admit that he doesn't speak English very well, with such an American name. His accent is from northern Italy, his homeland. His mother, a 16-year-old teenager, fell in love in Vicenza with an American serviceman stationed at the U.S. base here. They met while dancing hip hop. And they married three months later, moving to El Paso, Texas, where Jacobs was born. A love as fast as their son's legs.

When he was months old, his mother decided to return to Italy alone, as her husband was sent to South Korea, and they had a fight. They separated. And Jacobs grew up without knowing anything about his father, until his father contacted him on Facebook when he was already winning medals. "At first I didn't want to hear from him, but after working with psychologists, I responded. And at some point I will go to see him", has explained an athlete who dreamed of being a basketball player, first. In fact, despite his mother's efforts, Jacobs was a young man who felt lost. He played many sports, made mistakes. One of them, a sentimental relationship that did not end well, when he had already become a father at the age of 19. As if he was following the path of his missing father, with whom he shares his name.

But the athletics coaches in the village where he grew up, Desenzano del Garda, recommended him to a club in Gorizia. And they told him he had more of a future in running. Restless as he was, Jacobs needed more. So he started long jumping, breaking the Italian record in just a few years and moving to Rome, where, in order to have stability, he joined the Police Athletic Corps, a very normal practice in Italy, where being part of this corps allows athletes to focus on training. Jacobs began to break records. He married for the second time, now with his head on straight thanks to the work of psychologists. When just before the coronavirus he was injured, he ended up in a rural area in the north recovering, where he trained with Nordic ski poles among vineyards. It was a peaceful time before the madness.

In May 2021, after a pandemic he spent in Rome with his wife and daughters, Jacobs broke the Italian 100m record, going under 10 seconds for the first time. A progression that has not stopped until today, when he set a new European record (9.84) in the semi-finals where he was beaten by the surprising Chinese athlete Su Bingtian. The stage was complicated, without spectators and with too much humidity. And without a clear favourite to take Bolt's crown. In fact, the man who came with the best mark, Trayvon Bromell, has been left out of the final by one thousandth. He relaxed a bit and when he crossed the line, he had clocked the same time as the Nigerian Enoch Adegoke, 10.00. The judges, however, used technology to analyse what had happened, and discovered that the Nigerian had come in one thousandth ahead.

In the final, Jacobs saw Britain's Zharnel Hugues disqualified for a false start. He was the man on his left, so he lost a clear reference. But if in the semifinals the Italian has been slow, in the final he has plugged in, always staying second until imposing his final sprint. He won the gold medal in lane two with a time of 9.80, beating the American Fred Kerlei (9.84) and the Canadian André De Grasse (9.89). 41 years after the last great success of an Italian sprinter, the 200m won by Pietro Mennea in Moscow, Italian sprint has gone further than ever. Jacobs, too.