The 100 meters at the Olympics is the event that turns sprinters into kings. On one of the most unusual nights the sport has ever seen, the race that has long defined royalty went to a Texas-born Italian who hadn’t cracked 10 seconds until this year.
He’s a 26-year-old whose best days before this came in the long jump. He’s a man even the runner in the next lane didn’t really know.
At the Tokyo Olympics, Marcell Jacobs is The World’s Fastest Man.
“I think I need four or five years to realize and understand what’s happening," Jacobs said.
The Italian crossed the line in 9.8 seconds Sunday night to capture the first 100-meter medal ever for the country better known for its soccer prowess. Pietro Mennea won the 200 at the 1980 Olympics in Moscow and Livio Berruti won that race at the 1960 Games in Rome.
Even in a contest with no clear favorites — American Ronnie Baker was a candidate and China’s Su Bingtian ran a shocking 9.83 in the semis — Jacobs came from nowhere. He topped America’s Fred Kerley (9.84), a 400-meter runner who moved down in distance because he saw a medal chance, and Canada’s Andre DeGrasse (9.89), who adds another 100-meter bronze to the one he won Rio.
“I really don’t know anything about him,” Kerley said of the new gold medalist. “He did a fantastic job.”
The 26-year-old Jacobs was born in El Paso, Texas, but his parents split when he was 6 months old. He went to Italy as a baby with his mother. His dad, Marcell Jacobs Sr., stayed in Texas.
“I never saw my dad from that time,” he said. “But I started to speak with him one year ago for the first time. This helped me arrive here with a good mentality.”
His dad also sent him messages before the 100 final: “Yeah, he’ll watch [the race],” Jacobs said. “He wrote to me before the race, [saying] ‘You can do it, we are with you.’ ”
Jacobs’ path Sunday was made that much clearer because of who wasn’t in the race. The reigning world champion, Christian Coleman, is serving a ban for missed doping tests. The world leader in 2021 and the favorite to win the gold, Trayvon Bromell, didn’t make it out of the semifinals. Usain Bolt, who has commandeered the Olympic and every other sprint stage since 2008, is retired.
“He changed athletics forever,” Jacobs said. “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.”
Bolt’s world record is 9.58. Before Sunday, Jacobs’ personal best was 9.95.
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World champion Sifan Hassan made an incredible recovery from a fall at the final bell to win her 1,500-meter heat on Monday. After getting in a tangle with Kenyan runner Edinah Jebitok at the start of the last lap. She sped around the outside of the pack on the back straight and ended up crossing the line first in 4 minutes, 5.17 seconds to qualify for the semifinals.
It kept alive the Dutch runner’s bid for a rare distance-running treble at the Tokyo Games.
Hassan has qualified to run in the 5,000-meter final later Monday at the Olympic Stadium, when the energy she expended on that last-lap scramble in the 1,500 heats might catch up with her. She’s expected to battle with two-time world champion Hellen Obiri of Kenya for the 5,000 gold.
Hassan, who won a 1,500-10,000-meter double at the world championships in 2019, says she will also run in the 10,000 meters at the Tokyo Games and go for three medals.
That grueling schedule means she will have to run six races in eight days in the Tokyo heat and humidity, including the two races on Monday and the 1,500 and 10,000 finals on back-to-back days on Friday and Saturday.
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Yulimar Rojas didn’t even need to look for validation. The runway, the take off, the way she hit the sand — it all felt so good she somehow knew she’d sealed her Olympic gold medal in the women’s triple jump with a world record.
Rojas broke the Olympic record in the first round of Sunday’s final at the Tokyo Games, signaling her intent. She went through four more rounds before putting it all together perfectly with a mark of 15.67 meters on her last attempt, improving on the old mark of 15.50 that Inessa Kravets of Ukraine set in 1995.
“I knew. I already knew. I knew from the run. I knew I couldn’t miss that one. I knew it was right there,” she said of her last jump. “I didn’t even have to look. My head, my heart, my body.”
Rojas already had the gold medal assured — with that Games record of 15.39 — when she took the last of her six attempts, giving her a feeling of freedom. The celebrations really kicked off when, after her initial reluctance to look, she confirmed the record with a glance at the stadium screen.
Patricia Mamona of Portugal took silver with a national record of 15.01 meters. Ana Peleteiro, who trains with Rojas, set a Spanish record of 14.87 to win the bronze.
Rojas was a silver medalist at the 2016 Olympics, and won back-to-back world championships in 2017 and ‘19. Hers is the first Olympic gold for a Venezuelan female athlete.
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Other vignettes Sunday didn’t involve medals.
Luca Kozak tripped on a hurdle and looked over three lanes to see a Jamaican opponent, Yanique Thompson, had suffered the same fate. Kozak helped her back to her feet.
Later, in the men’s 800 semifinals, American Isaiah Jewett got tangled up with Botswana’s Nijel Amos and the two went tumbling to the ground. They helped each other up and jogged slowly together toward the finish line.
“I don’t want any bad blood, because that’s what heroes do — they show their humanity through who they are and show they’re good people,” Jewett said.