TOKYO (AP) — The 26-year-old Texas-born Italian sprinter who surprised everyone by winning the 100 meters at the Tokyo Olympics might just be getting started.
Antonio La Torre, the head coach of Italy’s track and field team, believes Marcell Jacobs can run as fast as few men besides Usain Bolt ever have.
“With his infinite talent I dare to say that he’s a man who can run close to 9.70 — or maybe even faster,” La Torre told The Associated Press on Monday, a day after Jacobs registered a personal-best 9.80 seconds to succeed Bolt as Olympic champion, otherwise known as The World’s Fastest Man.
La Torre pointed out that the final was held about 2 ½ hours after Jacobs clocked 9.84 in his semifinal heat.
“In the final third of (his semifinal), Jacobs clocked a top speed of 43.3 kph (26.9 mph) that was faster than anyone all night,” La Torre said.
After a masterful start in the final, Jacobs looked around in the last meters to make sure nobody was near and slowed down slightly.
“If he had pushed the entire way, he could have run 9.78,” La Torre said.
Besides Bolt, who holds the world record of 9.58, only Tyson Gay and Yohan Blake have ever run under 9.70.
And to think that until a few years ago, Jacobs was primarily a long jumper. A series of injuries affecting his left knee — the one he pushes off on in long jump — prompted Jacobs to switch his focus to purely sprints.
“Unfortunately his knees are too fragile to handle the takeoffs in the long jump,” La Torre said. “He would have been a gold-medal contender in the long jump, too. But he got injured every time.”
Jacobs’ Instagram handle remains “crazylongjumper.”
Even Jacobs’ personal coach, Paolo Camossi, is a jumping specialist.
Camossi won the triple jump at the world indoor championships in 2001 with a rare victory over then-Olympic champion Jonathan Edwards of Britain.
“They created a really efficient symbiosis. Paolo really developed, too,” La Torre said. “He studied and consulted with a lot of other coaches and eventually he was able to get the most out of Marcell’s enormous motor.”
Jacobs qualified for the 100 semifinals at the 2019 world championships in Doha, Qatar; won gold in the 60 meters at the European Indoors in March of this year in an Italian-record 6.47 seconds; helped Italy to a silver medal in the 4x100-meters at the world relays championships in May; but still wasn’t even considered a medal contender in Tokyo.
He hadn’t cracked 10 seconds until this year, and that raised some questions on social media about Jacobs’ recent improvements.
“I understand these questions," La Torre said, "because, unfortunately, it’s always like that,”
La Torre, who is also a university professor in Milan specializing in sports science, said Jacobs worked “like a maniac” on all aspects of his racing entering the Games.
The coach added that part of Jacobs' training regime involved working out three times a week at the team’s Olympic training center in Rome on a specially outfitted track that features electronic sensors recording every single aspect of his movement — acceleration, speed, number and frequency of strides, reaction time and much more.
And the team has all of Jacobs’ data stored away.
“Whoever wants to see it is welcome,” La Torre said.
The speculation was merely an afterthought for a team still celebrating its greatest night in Olympic history.
That’s because moments before Jacobs won his race, Italian high jumper Gianmarco Tamberi won gold in his event in a tie with Mutaz Essa Barshim of Qatar.
Jacobs and Tamberi celebrated by eating dinner together at 4 a.m. on Monday, La Torre said.
It’s been quite a turnaround for a team that failed to win a single medal in track and field at the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.
La Torre was hired soon after the Rio Games to replace Italy’s previous head coach, Elio Locatelli.
Jacobs will return to the track later this week as a member of Italy’s 4x100-meter relay team with Filippo Tortu — who became the first Italian to run under 10 seconds three years ago with a 9.99 — plus Lorenzo Patta and Fausto Desalu.
“It could be a very competitive relay. We’re just aiming to get into the final,” La Torre said. “Then in the final anything can happen.”
Jacobs, as the world has just seen, already knows that.
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Andrew Dampf is at https://twitter.com/AndrewDampf