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Italy's Marcell Jacobs Is The Surprise Successor Of Usain Bolt


There's a new Olympic men's 100-meter champion in track and field, and he is a big surprise. Marcell Jacobs of Italy raced to a stunning victory Sunday night in Tokyo. His win comes as the sport adjusts to the absence of Jamaican sprinter Usain Bolt, whose presence dominated the past three Olympic Games. From Tokyo, NPR's Tom Goldman reports.

TOM GOLDMAN, BYLINE: Journalist Tim Layden knows track and field as much as anyone. He covered it for 25 years at Sports Illustrated and now as a writer-at-large for NBC Sports. But even he was scrambling in the moments after Marcell Jacobs won Olympic Track's marquee event.

TIM LAYDEN: I'm still Googling him right now, as a matter of fact. This was a huge surprise.

GOLDMAN: Layden would find out Jacobs was born in Texas to an Italian mother and moved to Italy as a child. As a sprinter, he hadn't really distinguished himself at big events. At his post-victory press conference, Jacobs, who's 26, explained his fortunes started to turn three years ago. That's when he moved to Rome to train, set up a support team, and the improvement began step by step. Speaking through an interpreter, Jacobs said he was inspired by an Italian teammate who won a gold medal in the men's high jump right before the hundred meters.


MARCELL JACOBS: (Through interpreter) And I thought, you can do it. You can win another gold medal. So I focused on myself, on my lane. I didn't look left. I didn't look right. I tried to just focus on my performance and run as fast as possible. And I...

GOLDMAN: Jacobs edged silver medalist Fred Kerley of the U.S. and Canadian Andre De Grasse, who won bronze. And as the new 100-meters champion, he assumed the weighty mantle as successor to a sprinting legend.




UNIDENTIFIED ANNOUNCER: Usain's done it - all the way from Beijing to London and now to Rio.

GOLDMAN: 2016 was Usain Bolt's last Olympic act, as he rang up three more gold medals for a career total of eight.

LAYDEN: It's very different without Bolt.

GOLDMAN: Again, Tim Layden.

LAYDEN: You've essentially lost that giant tent pole in the middle of the three-ring circus.

GOLDMAN: But Layden knows this about track and field - it always provides, he says. And it already has. Sunday alone, there was the shared gold medal in the men's high jump, a world record in women's triple jump, and a Texas-born Italian who shocked everyone in the hundred. And there's still a whole week to go. Tom Goldman, NPR News, Tokyo. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Tom Goldman is NPR's sports correspondent. His reports can be heard throughout NPR's news programming, including Morning Edition and All Things Considered, and on
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