Star of Italy's medal-winning Olympic squad returns to hero's welcome

Rome (AFP) –


The star of Italy's Olympic team, Lamont Marcell Jacobs, returned home as a national hero on Monday after the country's best performance in the Games' history capped an unforgettable summer of sport for the Mediterranean nation.

Dozens of fans, family and friends were on hand inside Rome's Fiumicino airport to greet Jacobs -- undoubtedly Italy's man of the past two weeks after racing to a surprise win in the men's 100 metres.

Coming hot on the heels of the football team's memorable triumph at Euro 2020, Italy won 40 medals in Tokyo, a new national record which comfortably beats the previous best hauls of 36 in 1960 and 1932.

Italians have delighted in the exploits of their athletes in Japan, who have provided some of the iconic moments of this year's Games and won gold in events in which they are traditionally also-rans.

"I would never have imagined such an amazing Olympics even in my dreams, to win two gold medals and to be flag bearer at the closing was incredible," Jacobs told reporters, after hugging his mother and friends awaiting his arrival.

Also on the return flight to Rome from Tokyo were the five members of Italy's rhymic gymnastics team who won bronze, handing Italy her 40th medal.

Italy broke their medal record with one of the most dramatic moments of the track-and-field portion of the Olympics.

Their sprinters produced an incredible performance to win the 4x100 metre relay for the first time in Italy's history with a national record time of 37.50sec.

They snatched that race in the final moments as unheralded Filippo Tortu managed to reel in Nethaneel Mitchell-Blake and dip ahead of the Briton at the line.

For many Italians that win was another one in the eye for the UK after their footballers beat England in the Euro 2020 final at Wembley.

- Gold Galore -

That win also gave a second gold to Jacobs, the Texas-born sprinter who performed one of the biggest shocks in Olympic history when he stormed out of athletics obscurity to take gold in a time of 9.80sec.

It was an incredible win for the 26-year-old, whose previous career highlight was this year's European indoor 60m title.

Jacobs' triumph thrilled Italy and came almost straight after Gianmarco Tamberi shared gold in the men's high jump with Qatari Mutaz Barshim.

Tamberi waited for Jacobs to run into his arms before the pair bounced around in joy and disbelief at what they had just achieved -- possibly the greatest 10 minutes in the history of Italian sport.

Tamberi's own success was impressive enough as it came five years after an ankle ligament tear ruled him out of the Rio Olympics when he was in the form of his life.

It was Barshim who helped Tamberi pull his life and career back together, and whose 2019 World Championship victory inspired him to Olympic glory.

The pair arrived at 2.37m having not hit the bar on the way and when they were told they could share the gold the two friends took one look at each other before launching themselves into a huge embrace, Tamberi then collapsing to the ground and writhing around in joy.

Italy's track cyclists also provided a moment of high drama when they broke their own world record to win the men's team pursuit.

Their blistering time of 3min 42.032sec was just enough to hold off Denmark, who crossed the line in 3:42.198, in an incredible neck-and-neck battle.