At the time, few people would even have noticed Marcell Jacobs’ two previous European Championships appearances. In 2016, he finished 11th in the long jump; two years later he failed to progress from the 100 metres semi-finals.
That he lines up in Monday's 100m heats as Olympic champion shows how much life has changed for the Italian over the past year: from an also-ran to the event’s biggest star.
Not since Linford Christie in 1992 has a 100m Olympic champion hailed from Europe. Three decades on, the world’s premier sprinter returns to the European stage with huge uncertainty over what the week might entail for him.
If Jacobs' stratospheric, unexpected rise to the pinnacle of the sport last year was not eye-catching enough, his subsequent performances – or lack of – have added layer upon layer of intrigue to a man whose sudden emergence prompted raised eyebrows worldwide.
His triumph at last year’s Olympics, in a European record time of 9.80 sec, came just three months after he had broken the 10-second barrier for the first time.
History has not always looked kindly on athletes making huge strides in short periods, and questions were asked of Jacobs, 27, when it emerged that he was associated with a nutritionist, Giacomo Spazzini, who was implicated in a police investigation into the distribution of anabolic steroids in March 2021. Spazzini has since been cleared of any wrongdoing by an Italian court, while Jacobs told Telegraph Sport this year that he had “absolutely not” taken any illegal substances.
“I understand that people were surprised, but that’s because for most people my name came into their homes at the Olympics,” he added. “My victories represent extreme hard work – hard work that nobody saw, hard work that was blood, sweat, tears and injuries.”
Having opted to end his season immediately after that Olympic breakthrough, he returned to action at the start of the year when beating America’s defending champion, Christian Coleman, to the world indoor title. There has been little sight of him since.
A virus laid him low at the start of the outdoor season, and he arrived at last month’s World Championships in Eugene having raced at just two Italian meetings all summer, withdrawing from multiple Diamond League appearances at short notice due to various physical problems. After advancing from the heats in a season’s-best 10.04 sec, he pulled out before the semi-finals, citing a muscular thigh injury.
“A painful choice,” he said. “I am a fighter and this is why I decided to be in Eugene. Now, in order not to compromise the rest of the season by risking a more serious injury, I have to postpone the challenge.”
A few weeks on, Jacobs' coach, Paolo Camossi, is optimistic. “He’s running free, he’s having fun,” he said, on the eve of the European Championships in Munich. “If we are here it is because he is fine and can compete.
“Marcell is the Olympic gold medallist and he is here to win, but it is not a race to be taken lightly. Falling is almost always the way to become stronger.
“I would do it all again. Maybe I would recommend a double mask to avoid the rotavirus caught in Italy [in May].”
Insisting that Jacobs “has the best chance” of adding the European title to his Olympic crown, Camossi identified four main rivals.
The fastest two in the field this year are Britain’s Zharnel Hughes and Reece Prescod, who won gold and silver respectively in 2018. Neither progressed to the world final last month, but both have Christie’s 9.87 sec national record in their sights, with Prescod running 9.91 this summer and Hughes 9.97.
Camossi also picked out Mickael Zeze, of France, and Jamaica-born Turkish sprinter Emre Zafar Barnes.
The women’s 100m looks to be a three-way battle between Britain’s reigning champion Dina Asher-Smith, who missed the Commonwealth Games with a hamstring problem, compatriot Daryll Neita, and Mujinga Kambundji, of Switzerland.