TOKYO — Track and field officially took its first formal steps Sunday into its post-Usain Bolt now.
World, meet Marcell Jacobs. Who was born in El Paso, Texas. His daddy, who used to be in the U.S. Army, lives in Dallas. This already has the makings of a country-western song but here it takes a digression.
Jacobs runs for Italy. He grew up there. Not in Texas. His mother is Italian. And Jacobs, in one of the great from-out-of-nowhere stories in Olympic history, ran 9.8 seconds Sunday to win the men’s 100-meter final.
Flow charts? Storylines? Expectations? It all meant nothing.
Marcell Jacobs is now The Man.
Fred Kerley of the United States, who until this season was a 400-meter runner, took silver, in 9.84. “Gotta pinch yourself,” Kerley said walking around the track, exclaiming, “Whoo!” Andre de Grasse of Canada, who famously jibed with Bolt in the semifinals of the 200 in Rio five years ago, took third, in 9.89, a personal best.
Before 2021, Marcell Jacobs’ best 100 was 10.03 seconds, in 2019. He had been a long jumper, and not a particularly good one, then had shown more promise indoors, at 60 meters, than outdoors at 100 — this year’s 60-meter European indoor champion. This is why no one had him on the radar.
Formally, Marcell is Lamont Marcell Jacobs, Jr. He was born in El Paso to Viviana Masini and a soldier father when both parents were teens. Viviana and child moved back to Italy when Marcell was not even a month old; Jacobs indisputably considers himself Italian.
“When I was young, I have a dream,” Jacobs, 26, said in English, admittedly a second language. “Win the Olympic Games.”
Wearing a necklace of many diamonds (real, he said), he went on: “I loss many, many times. All these loss help me for the last year — and this is fantastic.”
What happened over the past year, he said, were two things:
“I have a really difficult time with my mind. When I arrive at special moments, my legs — don’t run. The last two years, especially in the pandemic time, I really work hard with my mind, with a mental coach. She help me really, really good. I can run fast in this moment.”
The other — after working with this coach, she said, if you want to run fast, you need to get to a place that feels good for you with your father. Because he is American, this adviser said, “You are in your blood American blood, and you need to speak with him to arrive at the Olympic Games and maybe win.”
So, Jacobs said, he reached out. The father reached back. Just Saturday, the day before the 100 final, the son said the father wrote: “‘You are Lamont Marcell Jacobs, Jr.
“‘You can win the Olympic Games. We are with you. We love you. And we support you.’
“That,” the son said, “for me, is really important.”
The 100 went down a few meters away and moments after Italy’s Gianmarco Tamberi and Mutaz Essa Barshim of Qatar, tied at 2.37 meters, or 7 feet, 9-1/4 inches, had agreed to share the men’s high jump gold medal — rather than go through a jump-off. The two are the best of friends. “We won the … Olympic Games together!” Tamberi exulted.
It also made for an amazing few minutes in Olympic, especially as the story doubtlessly will be told, Italian Olympic, history — two gold medals, bang, bang.
Bolt, remember, burst onto the global scene in the summer of 2008, when he swept the sprints at the Beijing Games and set all kinds of records.
The next year, at the world championships in Berlin, he went 9.58 in the 100, 19.19 in the 200. Those records still stand.
In London in 2012 and in Rio in 2016, Bolt again went three-for-three. One of the relay medals was later wiped out because of a doping matter involving a teammate.
Bolt was last seen — competitively — on the track at the 2017 world championships in London. There he came third in the 100, behind long-time foil Justin Gatlin and up-and-comer Christian Coleman of the United States, Gatlin in 9.92, Coleman 9.94. Bolt managed a 9.95.
At the 2019 worlds in Doha, Coleman staked his claim to be The Man. He won the 100 in 9.76. Gatlin finished second, in 9.89. DeGrasse finished third in a then-PB 9.9.
Since, all kinds of drama.
Coleman is sitting out these Olympics because he ran afoul of what authorities call a “whereabouts” matter — that is, being where doping testers want him to be. He got three chances. The authorities — Coleman vigorously contested — said he whiffed three times.
Gatlin, at 39, tried to make it here. His body said, no. He is the last American to have won Olympic gold, in 2004.
Meantime, at the U.S Trials in June in Oregon, Trayvon Bromell won easily, Ronnie Baker qualified as expected and the surprise — Kerley, a 400 runner, dropped down, and made the team. Talk about betting on yourself.
In Sunday’s first semi, Kerley leaned for the win in 9.96. DeGrasse came next, in 9.98.
In the second, Britain’s Zharnel Hughes won in 9.98. Bromell ran a solid first 50 and then a not-so-solid next 50. He and Nigeria’s Enoch Adegoke crossed in a 10-flat photo finish. Officials gave the second spot to Adegoke.
In the third, finally, a let-it-rip race worthy of a Games semifinal. China’s Su Bingtian powered to 9.83 for the win. Baker matched. Jacobs went 9.94. South Africa’s Akani Simbine, 9.9.
Now, more drama. Simbine’s time meant Bromell was, that fast, out.
To say this was perplexing is like saying there’s traffic on the 405 in Los Angeles. Bromell had won six of seven races. He had a world-lead 9.77. He came to Tokyo as the 100 favorite. In Saturday’s heats, however, he ambled to a 10.5 and then said he had no idea why. That got him into the semis only as a time qualifier. No idea?
About an hour after his Olympic 100 ended, Bromell, who came back from a career-threatening Achilles tear at the Rio 2016 Games, posted this to Twitter without further explanation:
All this meant, post-Bolt, the field was wide open.
As they lined up, Hughes false-started himself out of the Olympic final. That left seven in the race.
Kerley got off to a spectacular start, a 0.128 reaction time. “The start was right there,” he said, laughing. “The only thing I had left was just the finish. I dipped at the line and I came up with second place.”
Lamont Marcell Jacobs, Jr., ran just that much faster: “It was amazing. It’s a dream. I am Olympic champion.”