ROME (AP) — The guy who won the biggest race in the Olympics now lives in relative obscurity inside a gated community in Florida.
Hardly anybody recognizes him.
Nobody bothers him.
And that suits Marcell Jacobs just fine after dealing with the chaos that surrounded his every move back home in Italy.
Because Jacobs, the unheralded sprinter who succeeded Usain Bolt as the 100-meter champion at the Olympics, still feels like he has something to prove as he prepares to defend gold at this year's Paris Games. His new training base lets him keep the focus on the task at hand.
“Now in Paris (everyone) wants to beat me. (Everyone) wants to take my crown from my head and put it on his head ... So I can’t wait to arrive in August and try to win again,” Jacobs told The Associated Press in a video interview from Jacksonville.
One of the few times he’s been recognized came when he went to the local utility office to turn on the electricity and water in his new home and the man who helped him realized he was talking to a gold medalist.
“My life has completely changed,” Jacobs said. “It’s another world.”
After two injury-plagued seasons, Jacobs made the decision to leave his longtime coach, Paolo Camossi, and join an elite training group in Jacksonville led by Rana Reider.
“I was losing motivation,” Jacobs said. “I needed a training group where I could compare myself against others every day. … It seems like starting all over again and that gives me a lot of energy and permits me to train at 100%.”
Reider’s group, known as the Tumbleed Track Club, also includes: Andre De Grasse, the 200-meter Olympic champion and the bronze medalist in the 100 behind Jacobs in Tokyo; Trayvon Bromell, a two-time world championship bronze medalist in the 100; Jerome Blake, a member of Canada’s medal-winning 4x100 relay team with De Grasse; and Abdul Hakim Sani Brown, who won a relay bronze with Japan at worlds in 2019.
All five sprinters could qualify for the Olympic final on Aug. 4 at the Stade de France.
“I needed a coach,” Jacobs said, “who wasn’t afraid to have the Olympic 100-meter champion in an Olympic year.”
Born in El Paso, Texas, to an American father and an Italian mother, Jacobs moved to Italy when he was 6 months old after his parents split. He didn’t see his dad again until a meeting was arranged when Jacobs was 13, and the relationship is still strained.
But being in Florida with his wife and two kids has allowed Jacobs to reconnect with the rest of his American family and improve his English. His grandmother, aunt and uncle live near Jacksonville, another uncle lives near Miami and at Christmas there was a visit with his brother-in-law in Texas.
“I’m at home without trying to be,” Jacobs said. “I’m reviving a relationship with the American part of my family that I’ve never been able to experience.”
GOLF AND GUNS
Being in Florida, Jacobs has also been able to feed his need for speed by attending the 24 Hours of Daytona.
“Motor sports and speed runs through my veins,” Jacobs said. “I grew up living with my grandparents and they were big motorsport fans. Every weekend we would go see a race.”
With a golf course in his backyard, Jacobs is also embracing a new sport.
“Golf isn’t easy because it requires a lot of patience and control, which is exactly the opposite of what we do,” Jacobs said, “Because (sprinting) is all about producing power, strength and speed.”
Jacobs also found time to visit a shooting range.
“I tried shooting both pistols and rifles," he said, “for the thrill of it.”
Jacobs had never broken the 10-second barrier before 2021 and there were plenty of insinuating questions about his 9.80-second victory in at the Tokyo Olympics.
Despite having also won titles at world and European championships, he still faces doubters calling him “a one-race wonder.”
“A lot of people in Italy, too, they know me from the Olympics, so they’ve never known my story behind the Olympics,” Jacobs said. “They don’t follow track and field so they didn’t know me. They don’t follow me for real. So they a lot of times say, ‘Oh, you just won the Olympics and you’re finished.’ But it’s not true, it’s not (right).
“I focus just on myself and try to do my best, because every time you can find some people who have to tell you something and say to you, ’You do this and not this, or this and not this,'” Jacobs said, gesticulating so much that at one point he knocked over the phone he was using for the video interview. "This is the big lesson I’ve learned in these years.”
Noah Lyles, the American who swept gold in the 100, 200 and 4x100 at last year’s worlds in Budapest, was already the big favorite for Paris. A blistering 60-meter time of 6.44 seconds in Boston last weekend just reinforced his status.
“He showed that he’s in great form with a personal best,” Jacobs said. “He’s gaining confidence. … He’s definitely going to enter (the Olympics) as the favorite. But I prefer it that way. … I prefer it when nobody thinks I can win and then going out and winning.”
Jacobs will likely return to competition in the U.S. in April before going to the World Relays in the Bahamas in early May with an Italian team that already backed up gold in Tokyo with silver at the worlds. Then he has big expectations for a home European Athletics Championships in Rome in June.
That’s when he’ll start to understand if his move to Florida paid off.
CRAZY LONG JUMPER
This isn’t the first time that Jacobs has made a major change in his career. He began as a long jumper before transitioning into sprinting full time.
His Instagram handle is still “crazylongjumper” and Jacobs has no plans to change it.
“That’s where I started and so that will remain forever,” Jacobs said. “Because you should never forget where you came from.”
AP coverage of the Paris Olympics: https://apnews.com/hub/2024-paris-olympic-games