TOKYO (AFP) – Italy’s Lamont Marcell Jacobs outshone a field of unusual suspects to claim a shock Olympic gold in the men’s 100 metres on Sunday, breaking retired Jamaican star Usain Bolt’s 13-year hold on the blue-riband event.
Jacobs, 26, timed a European record of 9.80 seconds, with American Fred Kerley taking silver in 9.84sec in one of the most understated major championship 100m races of recent times.
Canada’s Andre de Grasse, a bronze medallist at the 2016 Rio Games, repeated the feat in 9.89sec in Tokyo.
“It’s a dream, it is fantastic. Maybe tomorrow I can imagine what they are saying, but today it is incredible,” said Texas-born Jacobs, who until 2020 had never gone below the 10-second barrier.
“I crafted a really good team to support me,” he said of his improvement.
“We changed the starts. And we work mentality. Mentality, good food, good physiotherapy”
“I really work hard with my mind. Because when I was arriving at the big moment my legs don’t work too good. Now my legs go really good when it’s a big moment.”
Jacobs added: “It was my childhood dream to win an Olympic Games and obviously a dream can turn into something different, but to run this final and win it is a dream come true.”
Kerley said that he barely knew Jacobs. “I raced him once, in Monaco,” he said. “But I know nothing about him.”
De Grasse said he was happy with a personal best and another Olympic medal after a comeback from injury.
“9.80 from the Italian guy, I didn’t expect that,” the Canadian added.
“I thought my main competition would have been the Americans, but definitely he came to play.”
The athletes were introduced in a dramatic light show, swiftly followed by a horrendous false start for Zharnel Hughes in lane four, the Anguilla-born Briton not even bothering to question his disqualification.
Dressed in light blue singlet and lycra shorts, Jacobs, in lane three, made a good start, held his nerve through the drive phase and powered through to the line.
Jacobs joyously ran into the arms of Italian teammate Gianmarco Tamberi, who had just shared gold in the men’s high jump with Qatari Mutaz Barshim.
“Being here together is something spectacular. I believe in him and believed in myself,” said a beaming Jacobs.
– Jamaicans missing –
The race, run in stifling temperatures of 30 degrees Celsius (84 Fahrenheit), had a distinctly underwhelming build-up and feel to it as hot favourite Trayvon Bromell went out in the semi-finals in which China’s Su Bingtian and Jacobs unexpectedly set Asian and European records respectively.
The Tokyo Olympics are the first since Athens 2004 to take place without Bolt, who went on to win three consecutive Olympic 100m titles in Beijing, London and Rio de Janeiro, as well as three straight 200m crowns.
And for the first time since the 2000 Sydney Games, there was no Jamaican in the final, Bolt’s long-time former teammate Yohan Blake failing to qualify from his semi-final.
The field was instead filled with a raft of relatively unknown sprinters, with Jacobs’ main claim to fame a European 60m indoor title earlier this year.
The 100m in Tokyo has arguably been a pale imitation of Bolt’s glory years during which the charismatic Jamaican not only dominated the sprints but also captivated a truly global audience.
While the spectacle that Bolt brought to the blue riband event has been missing since his retirement in 2017, so also has been the emergence of a new generation of sprinting contenders.
Many have been lauded as the athlete to fill Bolt’s spikes, but no one has yet lived up to the considerable weight of expectation.
Added to that, the 68,000-capacity Olympic Stadium in Tokyo was empty of spectators because of coronavirus restrictions in the Japanese capital.
Instead there were sparse pockets of athletes and team officials who did their best to create something of an atmosphere at what is normally one of the most widely anticipated events of the entire Games, commanding a huge worldwide television audience.