Lamont Marcell Jacobs became the first Italian to win the most coveted crown in athletics, in a shock victory in the men’s 100m final.
Gianmarco Tamberi made it double gold for Italy with an emotional, and unusual, high jump victory
Until the Tokyo Olympics few Italians had even heard of Jacobs, who has made impressive progress over recent years and broke the European record twice on Sunday en route to victory.
“I am proud of you, I have been following you, you are honouring Italy,” Prime Minister Mario Draghi told the two athletes by telephone.
Footage showed Jacobs breaking away from an interview with a Spanish broadcaster to take a call from Draghi on a mobile phone.
Jacobs’ mother Viviana, speaking from the hotel she runs near Italy’s Lake Garda, said she had had a feeling on Sunday morning that something big was going to happen, but not as big as this.
“It’s a miracle. He’s the new (Usain) Bolt. I’m so happy for him,” she told Reuters.
Tamberi shared the high jump gold with Qatar’s world champion Mutaz Essa Barshim.
Both ended with jumps of 2.37 metres, and neither had a failed attempt until they attempted to clear the 2.39 mark.
After three failures each at 2.39, they ended up tied and entered a conversation with an Olympic official, who first offered them a “jump-off” to decide the matter.
“Can we have two golds?”, Barshim asked him.
The official nodded, and the two athletes clasped hands and whooped for joy.
Tamberi, who broke his ankle days before the Rio de Janeiro Games in 2016, hugged everyone he could find on the track. Draped in an Italian flag, he was also the first to embrace Jacobs after his 100m win.
“This is a bit of history that will stay with me forever. I will tell my kids, if I have them. I will never sleep again,” he said.
Jacobs’ European record 9.80-second run ended Fred Kerley’s bid to become the first American winner since Justin Gatlin in 2004. Kerley took silver in a personal best 9.84, while Canada’s Andre de Grasse 9.89 earned him a bronze.
“I’ve won an Olympic gold after Bolt, it’s unbelievable,” said the sprinter, who was born in the United States but moved to Europe with his Italian mother when he was a month old.
Italy ended the day in the top 10 of the Olympics medal tally with four golds. China was on top with 24 golds, the United States second with 20. Japan were third with 17 and Australia fourth with 14.
Jacobs, who was born in the United States to an Italian mother and a US serviceman father, was brought up by his mother after his parents separated when he was a baby. He was a long-jumper before concentrating on sprinting following an injury.
“He’s always been a little crazy, living day by day, taking everything with a smile. Today the crazy long jumper became the crazy sprint champ,” his mother said.
In an interview on Italian television Jacobs dedicated his victory to his late grandfather “who always believed in me”, as well as to the rest of his family and his coaching staff.
Draghi invited Jacobs and Tamberi to a reception at the prime minister’s official residence, a 16th century palace in Rome, on their return to Italy, following on the heels of a ceremony last month to celebrate both the Italian soccer team’s victory in the European Championships and tennis star Matteo Berrettini who was runner-up at Wimbledon.
No Italian had ever reached the Olympic 100m final but the country has had two champions in the 200m: the late Pietro Mennea, who won gold in Moscow in 1980, and Livio Berruti who won in Rome in 1960.
“I really liked the way he ran … it took me back 60 years,” 82-year-old Berruti told news agency Ansa after Jacobs’ success.
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