Lamont Marcell Jacobs made history on Sunday when the 26-year-old sprinter became the first runner in Italy’s history to win the 100m gold medal at the Olympics in Tokyo.
Italy has a rich Olympic tradition, known for a history of medal-winning performances in fencing, diving, and cycling — but the success on the track has completely eluded Italy since the first games of the modern Olympiad in 1900. Now that’s changed.
Jacobs, a highly-touted but relatively unknown entrant into the field Sunday night shocked Italy and the world, becoming the first track medalist in Italian history. The story behind how a world class sprinter, born in El Paso, Texas became a gold medalist for Italy is as fascinating as the win itself.
Jacobs parents’ met when his father, a United States Army soldier, met his Italian mother while stationed in Caserme Ederle, an army base located in Vicenza. Initially they moved to El Paso, where Jacobs was born. It appeared he would be raised in the United States, but then his life took a turn as an infant. His father was assigned to be stationed in South Korea, and rather than relocate to an unfamiliar land once again, his parent separated and Jacobs’ mother made the decision to move with her son to the small town of Desenzano del Garda in northern Italy.
A talented young athlete, initially Jacobs began sprinting at the age of 10, but didn’t really favor the sport. He transitioned into the long jump, and it was believed he would have the most success. It 2016 he competed in the long jump at the European Championships, setting Italian records and seeing success. Jacobs still ran the 100m, but it was far from his best event — routinely making the semi-finals in European competition, but failing to progress much further.
A short-distance runner, Jacobs thrived in the early stages of races, winning the European Indoor Championship in 2021 in the 60m, and while he dominated Italian competition in the 100m, few saw him as a threat to win gold in Tokyo. Still, there was a spark there, something waiting to be unlocked.
Everything came together for Jacobs in 2021. The training and hard work paid off, and with it came more success in the 100m. He stunned the field in heats during the Olympic games, showing incredible closing speed — which was on display in the final of the 100m Sunday. For the first two thirds of the race he trailed USA’s Fred Kerley, only to pull away in the final stretch to claim gold.
Part of the change in Jacobs’ fortune came with a peace of mind. Speaking to the Associated Press he explained that not having a relationship with his father weighed heavily on him, but after reconnecting a year ago it put him in a better headspace and he felt at peace with their relationship.
“I really worked hard with my mind. Because when I was arriving in the really big moment, my legs didn’t work so good,” Jacobs said. “Now, my legs go really good when it’s a big moment.”
Jacobs identifies fully as Italian. He was raised in the country from six months old, becoming a full citizen in 2010 and renouncing his U.S. citizenship. Now, he’s a hero and a part of history for Italy.