September 30, 2023

Why is Marcell Jacobs nowhere near matching his stunning Olympic gold medal in Tokyo?

For those of us of a certain age, Craig Mack’s 1994 hit “Flava in Ya Ear” is a classic, and just hearing it – or its remix featuring Notorious BIG, LL Cool J, Busta Rhymes and Rampage – brings back memories to high school.

But Mack was a one-hit wonder, largely known for just that song.

Nearly two years after the COVID-postponed Tokyo Summer Olympics, is it time to look at Men’s 100m Champion Marcell Jacobs the same way?

Jacobs’ win in Tokyo was astounding to track and field followers, as nothing in his career led anyone to believe he was a gold medal contender in the sport’s quadrennial major event. He followed up his victory in the 100 meters by helping Italy to gold in the 4×100 meters relay for the first time later in the competition.

And he really hasn’t done much since then.

Jacobs made his 2023 outdoor debut in France on Friday at the Diamond League’s Meeting de Paris, having previously withdrawn from the Florence and Rabat Diamond League meetings, saying he had a back injury. The scrapes blocked a showdown against American Fred Kerley, the Tokyo silver medalist and reigning world champion.

When he finally ran in Paris, it wasn’t great:

Jacobs got out of the blocks well and was within the first 25 yards with the field, but when the runners reached and held their top speed, he seemingly couldn’t make it. The Italian finished seventh in an eight-man field, with a time of 10.21 seconds.

American Noah Lyles won in 9.97 seconds. He beat Kenyan Ferdinand Omanyala in the race, although Omanyala ran a world-leading 9.84 in May.

In an otherwise unbelievable encounter with three world records, Jacobs’ long-awaited return and a possible confrontation with Lyles was a flop.

Later on Friday at the NCAA Championships in Austin, all nine young men in the final ran 10.05 or better, with Texas Tech winner Courtney Lindsey setting a record time of 9.89. To be fair to Jacobs and other pros, runners have been training for months before that meeting; the pro circuit is still early on the calendar, with athletes aiming to be at their best for their respective national championships and the World Championships in Budapest starting August 19.

To be clear, if Tokyo was the best meeting Jacobs will ever have, it was a great meeting. But the reason athletes like Usain Bolt, Allyson Felix and Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce are revered is because they were able to dominate for years, over multiple cycles of Olympic and World Championships.

That kind of success draws attention, and it’s reasonable to question and analyze what’s going on with Jacobs.

Olympic legend Michael Johnson, who works as a commentator for the BBC, tweeted about Jacobs after the race in Paris: “Jacobs is and always will be the Olympic champion of ’21… Since he showed no medal ability before Tokyo and has not shown anything since then, the debate is probably over whether he can do it again . He’s obviously fast. But can he put together a healthy and consistent series of races to enter a championship as a contender? Haven’t seen anything to indicate yes so far.”

USA's Noah Lyles (R) walks to first place ahead of Italy's Lamont Marcell Jacobs in the men's 100 meters at the IAAF Diamond League

Marcell Jacobs, left, finished well behind Noah Lyles in the men’s 100 meters at the IAAF Diamond League “Meeting de Paris” on Friday. (Photo by JEFF PACOU/AFP via Getty Images)

Jacobs’ health was at the forefront of his troubles, but as Johnson went on to say in his tweet, injuries are part of the sport and so is figuring out how to stay healthy. Since Tokyo, Jacobs has dealt with a gastrointestinal infection and thigh and back injuries that have caused him to miss a large number of meetings.

At last year’s outdoor world championships, Jacobs finished second in his opening race in 10.04 seconds, but then retired before the semifinals, citing a thigh injury. He did win the 60 meters at the World Indoors earlier in 2022, beating American Christian Coleman.

Specific to his rivalry with Kerley, since beating him at the Olympics, Jacobs has played four matches where he would have competed against the slim American, and has bowed out of all four due to his various ailments. It was never expected that Kerley would walk in Paris last week.

This year, Jacobs, who shifted his focus from the long jump to the short sprints in 2019, has so far failed to beat his own compatriot Samuele Ceccarelli, who came second in the Italian National Indoor Championships in the 60m. second in the 60m at the European Indoor Championships. Friday was his first meeting in more than three months since his loss to compatriot Ceccarelli at the European Championship.

The outdoor world championships are back on their regular schedule every two years, meaning Jacobs has a chance to prove that Tokyo wasn’t a flash in the pan. In May, he announced his pre-Worlds schedule, and he skipped two of the first three encounters he had scheduled. After Paris, he will be present at the European team championships on June 24, almost two full months before the World Cup starts. He has not announced anything outside of the European champions.

Will Jacobs be sane for Worlds and prove he wasn’t a one-hit wonder? The job world is waiting.

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