Tamberi and Jacobs capture double gold for Italy on a dream night in Tokyo

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Has there ever been a greater night in the history of Italian athletics? Within a matter of minutes, the charismatic and universally popular Gianmarco Tamberi won a share of the gold medal in the high jump before Marcell Jacobs produced one of the shocks of the Olympic Games, winning the 100m title and shattering the European record again.

Five years after missing the Olympic Games due an ankle rupture, Tamberi won the high jump in a truly fairytale ending. He shared the title with his great friend and world champion Mutaz Essa Barshim from Qatar, another athlete whose career has been waylaid by serious injuries and time spent on the operating table.

Tamberi and Barshim both had quiet seasons prior to the Olympic Games but the two experienced men of the field had clearly timed their preparations to perfection. In the highest quality men’s high jump final in Olympic history, both athletes cleared all heights up to 2.37m on their first attempts to keep a strong field of challengers - including European indoor champion Maksim Nedasekau from Belarus - at bay.

After three failures each at 2.39m, Tamberi and Barshim engaged in discussions with the officials on how to solve the stalemate. When the officials explained to Barshim they could potentially award two gold medals instead of resorting to a jump-off, neither athlete hesitated in accepting this option.

The scenes were euphoric and joyous as the two friends engaged in a brotherly embrace. Barshim and Tamberi have supported each other through their respective travails with injuries - most notably in 2017 when Tamberi started his slow but ultimately fruitful comeback from his ankle injury - and neither athlete could have wished for a better outcome.

For Tamberi, this was his second Olympic appearance after making his debut nine years ago in London 2012 at the age of 20.

The Italian was in the stadium in Rio de Janeiro five years ago but only as a spectator with tears in his eyes after that ankle injury - sustained shortly while attempting 2.41m at the Monaco Diamond League meeting after he had cleared an Italian record of 2.39m and less than a week after winning the European title in Amsterdam - cruelly robbed him of the chance of contesting the title when he would have started as many people's favouritre.

Tamberi underwent surgery on the offending ankle and the Italian kept hold of the cast to serve as a constant source of motivation for his revised goal: to win gold at the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo.

He said: “I put my life on this. I just wanted it too much. I never stopped dreaming it could happen and tonight it happened for real. I remember like yesterday when I was crying in the crowd in 2016 watching these guys jumping because of the injury.

“I never accepted a step forward. I wanted to be here,” said Tamberi, gesturing with his hand above his head. “I never was satisfied with a good result after my injury. I’ve never been satisfied because I wanted to be first in the world, to be Olympic champion.”

While Barshim earned his place on the podium at his third successive Olympics, Nedasekau won his first global medal in his trademark swashbuckling style. After one failure at 2.35m, the Belarusian passed his two remaining attempts before soaring over 2.37m on his first attempt - the same height he cleared to win the European indoor title from Tamberi in Torun - to ensure the bronze on countback.

As the high jumpers were celebrating their medals, the sprinters were settling into their blocks for the men’s 100m final - the first without Usain Bolt since 2004 or any Jamaican representation since 2000 - which closed the day three programme.

Reigning European indoor 60m champion Marcell Jacobs looked impressive in easing down to a national record of 9.94 in the heats and the Texas-born Italian raised his game further in the semifinal, eclipsing the European record by 0.02 with 9.84 to put himself in the medal discussion. 

Drawn in lane two with a vacant lane on his outside following the disqualification of Zharnel Hughes due to a false start, Jacobs turned on the power over the second half of the race and flew to the gold medal in 9.80 to shave another 0.04 off the European record and became the first European winner of this title since Linford Christie in 1992.

“It’s amazing. It’s a dream, it’s really fantastic,” said an incredulous Jacobs who was congratulated by Tamberi within seconds off the race finishing. “Two gold medals for Italy in five minutes? It’s incredible.”

Jacobs had broken the 10 second-barrier in early-May with a national record of 9.95 but did he expect to slash such a big chunk off his lifetime best over the course of the evening?

“My coach? Yes. Me? No!” he said. “I wanted to run sub-9.9 but 9.80 is even better!”

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