They always say anything can happen in an Olympic final, only no one predicted this, Marcell Jacobs becoming the first Italian winner of the men's 100 metres in 125 years of modern Games history. Make that the first Italian to even reach the final.
Better still perhaps, Jacobs ran straight into the arms of Gianmarco Tamberi, who was still celebrating just beyond the finish after winning a joint gold medal in the high jump. Largely empty Olympic Stadium or not, it was moment beyond most people's comprehension.
Born in Texas to an Italian mother and an American father, the now 26-year-old Jacobs moved to Italy after just a month, and up until this year was better known as a long jumper, his coach being a former triple jumper. Before this year, too, he hadn’t even broken 10 seconds, his winning time of 9.80 broke the European record he’d set just two hours earlier in the semi-final. Even in an event known for some unbelievable improvements this is right up there.
That final may end up providing the most unexpected outcome of any event in Tokyo, only for now at least the men's 400 metres hurdles looks to have the name of recent world record breaker Karsten Warholm of Norway written all over it. In this case the Italians ended up spoiling the night for the Irish.
Because unfortunately Tuesday's final won't feature Thomas Barr. Fourth in the event fives year ago in Rio, Barr was in the same semi-final as Warholm and the American Benjamin Rai, the third fastest man alive, who duly took the top two automatic final places, Warholm winning in 47.30.
Barr ended up fourth, behind Yasmani Copello of Turkey, who won bronze in Rio just ahead. The Irish athlete still ran the second fastest time of his life, 48.26 seconds, despite hitting the fourth last hurdle coming into the straight. Only his 47.97 in Rio was quicker, and he missed out on the final by one place, as the Italian Alessandro Sibilio ended up taking the last fastest qualifying spot on time after running a lifetime best of 47.93 in the second semi-final.
The Irish team did lodge an appeal against Sibilio’s hurdling technique but it was turned down.
Barr was out but not entirely down, showing remarkable composure to regain his effort after nearly crashing out altogether.
“To be honest I felt really, really good,” he said. “I maintained down the back straight into the top bend, my focus was 13 strides to six, 14 strides home. I may have come into it to quick.
“It felt like I was coming over the hurdle smooth, much faster than I usually do over hurdle seven but I didn’t bring my trail leg through as quickly as I’m used to and I just clipped it, it was an inch, and yeah it completely knocked my momentum. I didn’t feel lactic in the legs so I was able to recover but it probably did cost me a place in the final.
“It’s such a shame because that’s the second fastest time I’ve ever run and it’d probably have been 47-something. It was frustrating watching that last semi-final seeing the winning time was the same as mine. It’s going to be a tough one to follow, it’s really disappointing. I came in here as a contender, I’ve been a contender all year and I couldn’t do it on a day where I felt really good.
“For it to fall apart like that in a split second is frustrating but that’s the game I’m in, I was one of the unlucky ones. I knew it’d take a PB, I was getting into the blocks and the last thing I said, we’re getting a PB here, there’s no two ways about it. I killed my momentum by hitting that hurdle, it knocked me quite hard and I think that was the difference in me not beating Copello.”
It will make watching Tuesday’s final all the more difficult, Barr hoping now Warholm goes out and breaks his own world record of 46.70 seconds set in Oslo in July: “It’s great to be a part of this event, it’s paving history at the moment. It would have been nice to be able to pave a bit of in the Olympic final. Taking a step back, I’m just so glad these Olympics went ahead, and there has been so much support at home.
“It will be tougher now watching the final, knowing I could have been in it. I just hope they run so fast I would have been nowhere near the medals, to make it worthwhile not making the final. But I always know I’m mentally in good shape because something like that won’t throw me off. I will dig in.
“Someone could throw a brick at me from the stands and I will still go. Someone could fall in front of me. I just focus on what’s in front of me. If I wasn’t mentally strong I might have shut it. It’s just the body didn’t follow through where the mind was ready to go. That’s sport. I had my fair share of highs in Rio. It is what it is.”
With Usain Bolt winning the last three editions there was always going to be some element of unknown in that 100m especially after pre-Games favourite Trayvon Bromell bombed out in the semi-final, his American team-mate Fred Kerley winning silver in a lifetime best of 9.84, Canadian Andre De Grasse also running a best of 9.89 to win bronze.
Venezuela’s Yulimar Rojas also become the first triple jump world record holder inside an empty stadium with a stunning final leap for gold of 15.67 metres, a look of disbelief written all over her face. The previous record was 15.50 meters, set in 1995 by Inessa Kravets of Ukraine.
There were similarly scenes in the high jump as Mutaz Essa Barshim from Qatar and Tamberi ended up tied after three failures at 2.39m. They had two choices: go into a jump-off, or share the gold. They opted for the latter, both athletes immediately emptying buckets of tears. Such was the crazy night inside the Olympic Stadium.