Italy's Filippo Tortu dips to pip Britain's Nethaneel Mitchell-Blake in the men's 4x100m final at the Tokyo Olympics (© Getty Images)
Few would have considered Italy to be a medal contender in the men’s 4x100m before Tokyo.
They missed out on making the World Championships in Doha two years ago, and hadn’t reached an Olympic final since 2000. And no Italian quartet had ever broken 38 seconds.
But then Marcell Jacobs won the 100m at the start of the Olympic athletics programme. Coming hot on the heels of Gianmarco Tamberi’s shared gold in the high jump, it kick-started a gold rush that continued with Italy winning both 20km race walks.
And now, on the penultimate day of the Games, the Azzurri has won their fifth gold medal as Lorenza Patta, Jacobs, Eseosa Desalu and Filippo Tortu teamed up to triumph in the men’s 4x100m.
They had broken the national record in the first round just to qualify for the final, clocking 37.95 to finish third in their heat and making them the fourth-fastest team to qualify for the final.
Drawn in lane eight in the final, 21-year-old Lorenzo Patta – competing in his first senior-level championships – got the team off to a strong start before handing over to Jacobs. But the British quartet had also made a strong start with CJ Ujah and Zharnel Hughes running their first legs, giving them a lead over Jamaica, Canada and China.
Jacobs handed over to Eseosa Desalu, the Italian 200m champion and 20.18 performer, but Britain still had a slight edge as 2014 world indoor champion Richard Kilty took up the running. Canada’s Brendon Rodney, China’s Su Bingtian and Jamaica’s Yohan Blake also ran strong third legs to remain in medal contention.
British anchor Nethaneel Mitchell-Blake received the baton with a slight lead over Italy’s Filippo Tortu and for a brief moment it looked as though the European 200m silver medallist would hold on. But once Tortu got into top speed, the world finalist and 9.99 sprinter started to close in on Mitchell-Blake’s lead.
Tortu edged ahead just before the finish to cross the line first in 37.50, a huge Italian record and the second-fastest time ever by a European team. Britain took silver in 37.51, the fastest ever time for a silver medal at the Olympic Games, while 200m champion Andre De Grasse anchored Canada to bronze in 37.70.
China equalled their national record of 37.79 to finish fourth and Jamaica placed fifth in 37.84. They are both the two fastest times never to win a medal at the Olympic Games.
“I would never have expected this before the Olympics,” said Jacobs. “Before stepping on the track, we looked at each other and we were determined to win a medal. This is the year of Italy, this is our year. We won the Eurovision, we won the football European championships, we won five gold medals (in athletics).”
“This squad made me live this dream,” added an emotional Tortu. “I don’t have any tears left. I need to recharge them for tomorrow because I need them more for the anthem (during the medal ceremony).”
Jon Mulkeen for World Athletics
|MEN'S 4x100m MEDALLISTS|
|🥇||Italy 🇮🇹||37.50 NR|
|🥈||Great Britain & NI 🇬🇧||37.51 SB|
|🥉||Canada 🇨🇦||37.70 SB|