Italy’s Samuele Ceccarelli came of age as he won the European indoor 60m title in Istanbul, beating his compatriot and Olympic champion Marcell Jacobs in the process.
The 23-year-old law student from Massa, in Tuscany, had already bested Jacobs in winning the national title in February, and his performances in the Atakoy Arena made it clear that that result was not an anomaly. Far from it.
Having set a European lead of 6.47 in the semifinal, Ceccarelli had also put all the pressure on himself in his first senior international final. He responded exuberantly to take the title in 6.48, with Jacobs second in 6.50.
The year of 2023 has seen Ceccarelli’s career take off. His progress over 60 metres this season, which he started with a personal best of 6.72, has been steady and consistent.
He won at Ancona in a personal best of 6.65 and clocked the same time to win in Sabadell. In Berlin he was fourth in 6.58 before winning again in Ancona in 6.54.
That progression was maintained in Istanbul. But Ceccarelli, for all his exuberance in the track, remains conservative when it comes to assessing the impact his achievements will have on his life.
No, he will not be giving up his law studies. And as regards any targets outdoors this summer, he names only one: reducing his 100m personal best of 10.45. Given the dynamism of his performances indoors this season, you could say that looks a very realistic prospect.
"To become the European champion - that sounds great and I am over the moon because it is the first time in the Italian senior team, my first time competing at such championships, and the first win. So I could not be more happy than this," said Ceccarelli, whose championship experience prior to Istanbul only extended to the European Athletics U20 and U23 Championships.
Ceccarelli was preceded into the mixed zone after the final by Jacobs, who had enough red, green and white tape on his legs to make him look as if he had been gift-wrapped. “I had some problems with my left leg but I tried to give it my all,” he said. “I was aware that I was competing in this final with my mind but not with my body.
“I didn’t expect that result, but it shows once again that Italian sprinting is not a flash in the pan.”
Speaking of his illustrious fellow sprinter, Ceccarelli added: "He was happy for me and said a few words in the finish. We keep the gold medal at home in Italy so he was happy for me. He is like my big brother.”
Asked if this elevation to international success would bring about any changes to his life, and in particular his law studies at the University of Pisa, Ceccarelli responded: “Of course I will continue my studies in law because it is something I really appreciate. It gives me a view of everything that happens in real life and I think that both athletics and law are very important to form my psychological profile.
“Maybe I would like to be a lawyer, or maybe something in human resources. I would like to work with people because I am very open, I like to talk with everyone and I really like to know new people and new cultures, and so I think that human resources are a good way to combine law and personal speech.”
Despite his progress this year, he insisted he was surprised at this success.
“It was absolutely mental,” he said. “I didn’t expect that, because there were three years when I didn’t have the possibility to run a complete season because of injuries. So I didn’t know what to expect from this indoor season and I am very happy about what happened in like, 15 days!
“Of course, beating Marcell in the national championships gave me confidence. Because beating the Olympic champion is a very great result. I don’t know how many people could say they beat him! So for me it has been a very good bonus.”
The gold medal performances of Jacobs and the Italian men’s 4x100m relay team had a huge effect on the young sprinter. “Of course, because seeing an Italian winning at the Olympics in the 100m is something historical. I think that inspired a lot of people, most of all in Italy.”
Looking ahead to the rest of the year, he added: “My first objective is to improve my time of 10.45 in the 100 metres, which is from 2021. But I don’t want to think too far ahead. I would like to progress by thinking about 10.45 and then we will see what is going to happen.
“Will I celebrate? Maybe when I come home. I live in Massa, which has about 60,000 citizens, and is one hour away from Florence.”
Ceccarelli trains in nearby Massa with his coach Marco de Medico. “There is no group,” he said. “It is just me and him. I train five days a week, sometimes six.”
The sprinter has family links with football, as he grandfather played in goal for Foggia in Italy’s Serie A during the 1970s.
Ceccarelli also has history in another sport, karate, which he practiced as a youngster. “I don’t continue with it now,” he said. “Because it is a different way to use muscles. In athletics you have to be more relaxed. In karate it is more stiff.
“But karate helps in a mental way. It gives the capability to approach things in a good way, with calm and patience.”
It seems to be working out for him.
Mike Rowbottom for European Athletics