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TOKYO — The winner of the Olympic men’s 100 meters gets a title to go along with his gold medal: World’s Fastest Man. Lamont Jacobs might be the most surprised one to earn it. The men’s 100 is thick with bravado: trash talk, pre-race preening, winners acting like there was never a doubt. Jacobs has something to say the doubters: He was one of them.
Did he expect to win?
“Oh no, no, no,” he said Sunday night at Olympic Stadium. “Is incredible. My real dream is to run a final. And we run a final, and we win a final. I have no words to describe this moment.”
Maybe Usain Bolt can handle his interviews from now on. Bolt talked, acted and ran with delightful arrogance that seemed to be ingrained at birth. He was an exception and he knew it. Jacobs is the kind of winner we sometimes get and should usually expect.
Winners don’t like to admit this, but the margin for error in the 100 is so small that one race can’t really define the fastest man in the world. Bolt was the best because he was pretty much always the best. He won three straight Olympic golds in the 100, and his world record 9.58 was set at the 2009 world championships.
Jacobs peaked at the right time. American Fred Kerley, who finished second, said, “I really didn’t know nothing about him.” Fellow American Ron Baker did know about Jacobs, but only because they recently raced against each other.
He did not run a sub 10-second 100 until May of this year, and that was a 9.95 with a considerable tailwind. In July, he ran a 9.99. The three fastest 100 times of his life came in this weekend in Tokyo: 9.94, 9.84, 9.80, in that order. Maybe if there were another 100 Monday, he would run a 9.7-something.
Bolt also peaked when he first won Olympic gold, but that was different. Bolt turned 22 shortly after the 2008 Beijing Olympics, and everybody knew he was incredibly fast, but he had only recently gone from a 200/400 runner to a 100/200 runner.
Jacobs is 26. If the Tokyo Olympics had been held on schedule a year ago, who knows if he would have even been here?
What he did in the last three months was get himself in the mix. Then he somehow found a way to come through at the right time. Here is how tight the 100 can be: Trayvon Bromell was probably the prerace favorite. He led his semi after 90 meters. Then Zharnel Hughes passed him, and Enoch Adegoke tied him; it was a photo finish for second place. Adegoke advanced. Bromell missed out. Another inch there, and he might have gone on to win the gold medal.
Then, in the final, Hughes had a false start. He was disqualified. That can be jarring for the other runners, who have to pull up, regroup and then try to win a gold medal in a very short period of time. Baker said it’s not a problem “if you’re good.” Jacobs was about to show he is damn good.
Jacobs emerged from the blocks and charged ahead with his enormous torso and newfound belief in himself. Here is how new: Italian high jumper Gianmarco Tamberi had just shared the gold medal in the high jump, and Jacobs figured maybe he could match his friend.
“Yesterday night, I played PlayStation with Gianmarco in my room, and we say 'you can imagine if we win?'” Jacobs said. “‘Nah, nah, nah.’ ‘Is impossible.’ ‘No, no. don't think this.' And tonight when, when I see him five minutes before me win a gold medal, I say, ‘OK, I do.'”
OK. He did. He was still so stunned afterward that he said it will take him “four or five years to realize and understand what’s happening.” And then he told the story about how he got here.
He was born in Texas to an Italian mother and American father. When he was six months old, they split. His mom took him back to Italy. He said he did not speak to his father again until last year. He said, “For me, it was really important.” He said it gave him “a good mentality.” But when he was asked what his father does for a living, he didn’t know.
What was it like to meet him?
“Oh, no, no,” he said. “Only speak. I never see him.”
He smiled. He was in a fantastic mood. At one point he said, “See you next year (at) the World Championship.” He had been the fastest man in the world for an hour or so, and he was getting used to it.
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