Twenty months after rising from oblivion to claim Olympic gold in track and field’s glamor race, Marcel Jacobs could no longer get past the point that he was afraid to expose himself as a one-hit wonder.
The whispers began last summer when Jacobs pulled out of a string of marquee meets, citing illness or injury. Then the man who finished second to Jacobs in the 100m in Tokyo escalated the criticism when he alleged the Italian was deliberately dodging elite competition.
“The real dogs come and play outside,” 100m world champion, Fred Kerley, earlier this spring. When the host asked the American if Jacobs was a “real dog”, Kerley matter-of-factly replied, “I don’t think so. I’m just telling the truth.”
In response, Jacobs jumped to Instagram in April and posted a photo of himself leaning out of Kerley at the finish line at the Olympics. Jacobs captioned the photo: “Whenever and wherever you want, but remember when it matters most it ends up like this.”
Finally, two of the fastest men in the world will finally have a chance to back up their bold talk. The Olympic and world champions are set to go head-to-head twice in six days after Jacobs sidelined Kerley at the 2021 Tokyo Games. He will be the first to highlight the star-studded men’s 100m field on Sunday evening at the Diamond League meet in Rabat, Morocco. Next Friday is another Diamond League showdown for both men in Florence, Italy.
At stake for Jacobs and Kerley is less than Olympic or World Championship gold, but more than bragging rights. Both men are trying to establish themselves as track and field’s best male sprinters since the Usain Bolt era.
It is widely accepted in track and field that there will never be another Bolt. There will be no other track and field athlete with his sublime combination of speed and performance, with his ability to rise to a big moment, with his ability to run faster and more joyfully than he could and an entire niche. Drag the game into your slipstream.
And yet track and field didn’t stop when Bolt laced up his track spikes for the final time at the 2017 World Championships. The sport is still looking for a worthy successor, someone to crown as its new sprint king.
It could be Jacobs if he can recapture his Olympic form and prove his 2021 summer wasn’t a fluke. Or it could be Kerley if he can build on a dominant 2022 season that ended with his first global gold medal at last July’s world championships. The two upcoming one-on-one fights will provide an early barometer of how prepared both men are – and their recent sparring will only add to the intrigue.
NBC track and field analyst and four-time Olympic medalist Eto Bolden told Yahoo Sports, “To me, the chatter is great.” “I know how many sprinters in my era didn’t like each other and now these two guys seem to have a legitimate beef. It’s Linford Christie versus Carl Lewis, the guy who’s the best in Europe and who really Brutal does not care about the American. Such one-on-one matches can only generate interest.
These types of matchups are rare in track and field, Bolden said, because “meeting organizers can’t afford them.” When asked how big an appearance fee people like Kerley and Jacobs could earn, Bolden said he “can’t see either of them running for less than $50,000.”
As recently as three years ago, the 100-meter race featuring Jacobs and Kerley would not have been nearly so expensive. Neither specialize in short sprints as young professionals.
Jacobs broke out in track and field as a long jumper, becoming the 2016 Italian champion in that event, and still uses “crazylongjumper” as his Twitter and Instagram name today. It was only after injuries slowed his ascent in the long jump that the former Italian champion decided to shift his focus to track in 2019.
At the same time that Jacobs was trying to find his place in the game, Kerley made the audacious decision to take a break from his signature run. Kerley, already the collegiate record holder in the 400 and 2019 World Championships bronze medalist, suddenly shifted to the 100 and 200 ahead of the 2021 US Olympic Trials. He impressed with his ability to shine in the shorter sprints that spring while dealing with an ankle injury that prevented him from running the curve correctly.
Jacobs and Kerley’s paths met in Tokyo when both capitalized on the void left by Bolt and exceeded expectations on the world’s biggest stage. The Italian fell short of his personal best in all three rounds on his way to his longshot Olympic gold medal. The American won his semifinal heat and then finished four hundredths of a second behind Jacobs in the final.
That moment of glory ensured that Jacobs would never buy his own glass of Sangiovese in his home country, but so far no Italian has duplicated that level of performance. Jacobs did not race again in 2021, citing exhaustion. Intestinal problems forced him to withdraw from a meeting in Nairobi in early May 2022. Then came a lengthy thigh injury that hampered the rest of his outdoor campaign and saw him withdrew from the world championships before the semi-final race,
Nearly a year later, Kerley and Jacobs are finally about to reunite. The star-studded men’s 100 field in Rabat also includes African record holder Ferdinand Omanyala of Kenya, 2012 Olympic silver medalist Yohan Blake of Jamaica and 2022 World Championships bronze medalist Trayvon Bromell of the United States.
Kerley, says Bolden, enters the race as the favorite over Jacobs, Omaniala and the rest. While Jacobs has yet to make his outdoor debut this season, Kerley is already looking sharp. He To score a sub-20-second 200 at the Diamond League meet in Doha earlier this month. Then she ran 9.88- and 9.91-second 100s last weekend to win an event in Yokohama, Japan.
Bolden said, “I need to see someone beat Fred first before I can run against him.” “Strange things have happened, but they were favored all last year and they were successful.”
Kerley is, if anything, even more confident. In response to Jacobs’ “Whenever you want, wherever you want…” Instagram story, , “Keep that same energy up because ducking is not what I do.” Kerley then tweeted to the Diamond League account to “do it” and said that he “wants to 1v1 nobody else, just him. Him alone.”
For now, Kerley will have to settle for a shot at redemption in the traditional 100-meter race, along with other formidable competitors for himself and Jacobs. When asked about facing Jacobs earlier this month, He will “definitely win.”
Then he shrugged his shoulders and said, “If he comes, I don’t know.”