Having never competed in a major final at a tournament before and with a background in long jump, Jacobs turned on the afterburners to dip past the line in a time of 9.80 seconds and claim the title of Olympic champion.
In the semi-finals, Jacobs had announced his intentions by setting a new European record of 9.84, finishing third to book his place in the gold medal race.
Yet in the heat of Tokyo’s summer and with the pressure on, the rapid Italian showed championship class to win Olympic gold and end the title hopes of more experienced sprinters such as the USA’s silver medallist Fred Kerley and Canada’s 100m bronze medallist and 200m champion Ande De Grasse.
Less than a year later, the world is once again looking to see who will come out on top of a highly anticipated 100m race at this year’s World Athletics Championships and the next Olympic Games that take place in only two years time in Paris.
Find out more about Jacobs and the challengers to the 100m throne below.
Marcell Jacobs, Italy
Since the Olympic final in Tokyo, Jacobs hasn’t enjoyed a solid run of form or fitness. The highlight of the 27-year-old’s year was the World Athletics Indoor Championships, where he proved he was no flash in the pan with a victory in a time of 6.45 seconds in a field that included silver medallist Christian Coleman and pre-race favourite Marvin Bracy of the USA.
Jacobs is a two-time Olympic gold medallist, having also been part of the Italian 4x100m team that struck gold at last year’s Games.
The Texas-born-Italian sprinter was not a household name heading into Tokyo but he had put the world on notice with victory in the 60m at the European Indoor Championships in Torun, Poland and a new Italian 100m record of 9.95 seconds in his first outdoor meet of the year in Savona.
And while he was not a favourite for the Olympic gold medal, he stated his intentions to stand on the podium soon after he dipped under 10 seconds for the Italian record.
"I am going to Tokyo to win a medal,” he said confidently. “Bolt is not there, Coleman is not there, there's not a clear favourite, it'll be a battle. I can't stop dreaming now..."
Nobody at the time could have predicted how true his words would turn out to be.
In recent times, Jacobs has struggled with a muscle injury, only returning to claim his fifth consecutive Italian 100m title with a time of 10.12 in Rieti on 25 June.
He will have to claw back that Olympic form to have a chance to medal against a stacked field at the World Athletics Championships that take place between 15 and 24 July.
Olympic 100m gold medal (Tokyo 2020)
Olympic 4x400m gold medal (Tokyo 2020)
World Indoor Championships 60m gold medal (Belgrade 2022)
European Indoor Championships 60m gold medal (Torun 2021)
PB 100m: 9.80
READ MORE: Who is Marcell Jacobs?
Fred Kerley, USA
The first on the list of challengers to Jacobs’ 100m throne is also the man who followed him home in the 100m final of Tokyo 2020.
Kerley holds the rare honour of having medalled in a major final at both 400m and 100m, switching to the shorter distance after his bronze 400m medal at the Doha 2019 world championships.
At 27 - the same age as Jacobs - Kerley is entering his prime years as a sprinter and set a new PB and world lead of 9.76 in the semi-finals of the USA Track and Field Outdoor Championships.
In the final, he again showed his class, taking the top step on the podium in 9.77 in a race where every runner in the field dipped under 10 seconds.
Kerley’s PB places him sixth on the all-time list of fastest-ever 100m runners, equal with two of his compatriots and rivals, Coleman and Trayvon Bromell.
His time also makes him one of the main favourites to take gold at next month’s Worlds as he looks to be the man in form heading into the championships.
Olympic 100m silver medal (Tokyo 2020)
World 4x400m gold medal (Doha 2019)
World 4x400m silver medal (London 2017)
World 400m bronze medal (Doha 2019)
PB 100m: 9.76
READ MORE: Top things you didn't know about Fred Kerley
Oblique Seville, Jamaica
How do you step out of the shadow of legends? Jamaica’s rising sprint star Oblique Seville showed he is on course to do just that with some rapid 100m results in 2022.
At only 21 years old, Seville is one of the youngest athletes in the field, yet his time of 9.86 seconds at Jamaica’s Jubilee Series in May showed he is ready to mix it with the best of them.
Sixth on the list of world’s best times this season, Seville heads to the Worlds courtesy of a narrow loss to sprint legend Yohan Blake in the 100m final at the Jamaica National Championships.
And the young challenger also has Olympic experience in his locker, having competed at Tokyo 2020, coming fifth in the 4x100m relay final.
While the World Athletics Championships may come too soon for the youngster, don't count him out for Paris 2024 where at 23 he will be entering his prime years as a sprinter.
Jamaica under 20 championships 100m gold
Benjamin Azamati, Ghana
Ninth on the list of this year’s world’s best 100m times, Ghanaian sprint sensation Benjamin Azamati is just getting better and better.
In March 2021, the 24-year-old broke a national record that had stood for 22 years when he clocked 9.97 at the Texas Relays.
Just a year later, at the same event, he shaved seven-hundredths of a second off his previous best mark to post a new personal best of 9.90.
While Azmati was eliminated in the 100m heats of Tokyo 2020, he did gain first-hand experience of the boiling pressure pot of an Olympic final when he reached the medal race of the Tokyo 2020 4x100m - the first time Ghana had achieved the feat since Atlanta 1996.
African Games 4x100m gold medal (Rabat 2019)
PB: 9.90 seconds
READ MORE: Top facts about Benjamin Azamati
Trayvon Bromell, USA
After the disappointment of the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 where he failed to reach the Olympic final by a millisecond after coming first in the US trials, Bromell will be hoping this is his year to shine.
The joint-sixth fastest 100m runner of all time, the 26-year-old will be aiming to turn those rapid times into championship medals.
With a PB of 9.76 set in 2021 and a strong performance in this year's USA Track and Field Championships that saw him finish second behind Kerley, Bromell holds the second-fastest time of 2022 with a mark of 9.81.
World Championships 100m bronze (Beijing 2015)
World Indoor Championships 60m gold (Portland 2016)
PB 100m: 9.76
Ferdinand Omurwa, Kenya
The fastest African 100m runner of all time, Ferdinand Omurwa is also the current third-quickest man this year having posted a time of 9.85 in May 2022.
He showed he is in strong form heading into the Worlds with victory over South Africa’s Akani Simbine on 6 June at the African Athletics Championships, while a time of 10.03 running into a strong headwind saw him named champion at the Kenyan trials.
Omurwa’s crowning glory to date was the African record of 9.77 he set in September 2021, when he smashed the previous best of Simbine by a full 0.7 seconds.
And at 26 years of age, the Nairobi-born athlete is able to dream not only of World honours but also gold at the upcoming Olympic Games Paris 2024.
African Championships 100m gold (Mauritius 2022)
One of the most exciting things about this era of 100m running is the unpredictability of the competition. Many other athletes can and probably will challenge for the crown at this year’s World Athletics Championships and the Paris 2024 Games.
Coleman and Bracy of the USA have both posted exceptional times this year (9.95 and 9.87 respectively) and on the 24 June, Jamaican legend Blake proved he is still at the top of his game with a time of 9.85.
With the long-term successor to Bolt yet to be set in stone, the opportunity is there for any of these sprinters to step up their game and claim the title of world’s fastest man.