Usain Bolt would not recognize what went down on the Olympic track he used to own.
On the night of the 100-meter gold medal race that once belonged to the Jamaican superstar, a Texas-born Italian with a deeper history in long jumping than outdoor sprints won the race that has long defined Olympic royalty.
At the Tokyo Olympics, Marcell Jacobs is The World’s Fastest Man.
The Italian crossed the line in 9.8 seconds Sunday night, the first medal ever for the country in the 100 meters.
Pietro Mennea won the 200 in 1980 and Livio Berruti won that race at the 1960 Games in Rome.
Even in a race with no clear favorites — American Ronnie Baker was a candidate and China’s Su Bingtain ran a shocking 9.83 in the semis — Jacobs was a surprise.
Jacobs topped America’s Fred Kerley and Canada’s Andre DeGrasse to take the spot Bolt had commandeered since 2008.
“I really don’t know anything about him,” Kerley said of the new gold medalist. “He did a fantastic job.”
Jacobs’ victory came only moments after his countryman, Gianmarco Tamberi, tied Qatari high jumper Mutaz Essa Barshim for gold in the high jump.
Tamberi, writhing on the ground, kicking his feet up in jubilation after his crazy win, was a man in need of someone to hug.
He found him when Jacobs, of all people, crossed the line first, and celebrated by jumping into the broad-chested sprinter’s arms and curling his own arm around Jacobs’ bald head.
They weren’t the only ones celebrating the unexpected.
Earlier, Yulimar Rojas of Venezuela broke a 26-year-old world record in the triple jump with a leap of 51 feet, 5 inches (15.67 meters).
The day’s other gold medal went to Gong Lijao of China, who bested American Raven Saunders of the United States. Saunders, who is Black and gay, wears an “Incredible Hulk” mask when she competes, closed out the medals ceremony by lifting her arms above her head and forming an “X” with her wrists.
“It’s the intersection of where all people who are oppressed meet,” she explained.
The Jacobs victory came later and left everyone outside Italy – and maybe some in the country, as well – letting out a collective “Who?”
He was born in El Paso, Texas – the son of an American father and an Italian mother. He moved to Italy as a young boy when the U.S. military transferred his dad to South Korea. He was a long-jump specialist for years, and his biggest major running success came in an indoor 60-meter title at European champions earlier this year.
His personal best was an Italian record, 9.95 seconds, set in May. It was the first time he’d broken 10 seconds.
Now, he’s on the list with Jesse Owens, Carl Lewis and Bolt — an Olympic 100-meter champion.
His path was made that much easier when American Trayvon Bromell, who came into Tokyo with the world’s leading time and as the odds-on favorite, didn’t even make the final.
Bromell ran his semifinal heat in 9.996 seconds to finish third, and said “I’m not really sure what I could’ve done better, but the race went the way the race went.”