At the 100-meter sprint Sunday night, a relatively unknown Italian athlete came out of nowhere to secure a gold medal and make a real name for himself. Marcell Jacobs, 26, enters his name into the storied company of sprinters like Usain Bolt, Jesse Owens, and Carl Lewis.
Jacobs himself even seemed astonished by his performance, telling reporters “I think I need four or five years to realize and understand what’s happening.”
Jacobs’ gold medal in the 100-meter is the first-ever medal in that event for Italy. Typically, Italy is known for excelling in events like football, where they routinely bring home medals. The only previous running medals for Italy came in the 200-meter race in 1960, when Livio Berutti took home gold, and in 1980 when Pietro Mennea won.
Jacobs’ finish was impressive, coming in at just under 9.8 seconds to secure the gold medal for his country. Even though the field had no clear “celebrity” who was a favorite to win the event, many were still astonished to see the unknown Italian sprinter run across the finish line first.
The upset victory saw Jacobs overtake American 400-meter sprinter Fred Kerley, who came in second place. Kerley moved down to the shorter sprint because the relatively open field offered him a chance to medal. The third-place winner was Andre DeGrasse, a Canadian sprinter who also took home the bronze medal in Rio in 2016.
When asked about Jacobs after the race, Kerley stated “I really don’t know anything about him. He did a fantastic job.”
The field was relatively open for anyone to make a name for themselves in the 100-meter sprint thanks to some serious competitors who weren’t present for the event. Usain Bolt, who has dominated races for over a decade, has officially retired. Christian Coleman, who is the current world champion in the 100-meter, missed required drug tests for the Olympics, which earned him a ban.
Meanwhile, Trayvon Bromell, a sprinter who was expected to perform well during the Olympics, didn’t make it out of the semifinals during this year’s games.
Reporters asked Jacobs about Bolt and floated the idea that the Italian athlete could be taking up the torch from the retired superstar. “He changed athletics forever,” Jacobs enthused. “I’m the one who won the Olympics after him. That’s unbelievable. But drawing comparisons, I don’t think it’s the time now.”