This is not just an interview. It is an heart to heart conversation between two icons of Italian sport, recorded while walking on the new athletics track at the wonderful Stadio dei Marmi. With 22 days to go until the Roma 2024 European Athletics Championships, scheduled from 7-12 June, (tickets on sale here), Marcell Jacobs speaks with Fiona May.

The reigning Olympic and European champion sprinter and the Italian long jump legend, who will participate at the European Athletics Championships in the role of Ambassador, approach the big event together, sharing their respective feelings and experiences. An informal, sincere dialogue, during which Jacobs also confides to May the responsibility he feels in having to defend an Olympic title, his fears, the desire to find himself again during his training period in America, the desire to win again in front of the home crowd at the Olympic Stadium and the great opportunity represented by the European Athletics Championships in Rome, to bring athletics even more into the hearts of Italians.

Marcell, how are you?

“Good, very good. I’m back in this wonderful city, I missed this incredible stadium, so I’m ready to start my season.”

What is your relationship with Rome?

“The capital is the place I moved to, where I prepared for my last Olympics. It has given me many emotions, many victories, but also defeats that are part of the game and are important because they help you grow. However, I have great memories that tie me to the city.”

How do you feel preparing for such a big event as the Roma 2024 European Athletics Championships?

“I am ready and charged up. These months of training in America have helped me, not only for the athletics part. It helped me to get back in touch with myself, I found a Marcell who was lost and needed to understand what he really wanted from life. I regained energy, charge and motivation to come back and compete again. The European Athletics Championships at home will have a whole other value, they will be very important for me, and I am the reigning European champion. Running in front of your people with the Italian jersey on is something incredible and I can’t wait for that moment to come.”

The great thing about you is that you are human, peaceful. I was glad to hear you say that you went in America to find yourself. Often many people don’t really understand that being a champion becomes mentally heavy.

“Yes, let’s talk about this heaviness that comes with winning an Olympic medal. I used to think that once I won the gold, everything would become easier. Instead, that’s when the real work and the hard part started. I am someone who has always put myself on the line, I have never been afraid of defeats and disappointments because they are part of our sport. I wish you could always win, everyone wants to do that, but you have to take steps to get there. I am a human being like everyone, I have my fears, my difficulties. I admit that before entering the race I am afraid, it’s a normal part that I have learned to accept. It’s part of facing the race and it’s an adrenalin rush that I need. All this I have learnt over time, with the bad moments, the disappointments, the defeats, which are an important part for us athletes. We have to be good at looking at that difficulty, learning something from that and then turn it into something that will help us in the future.”

Do you have any particular superstitious rituals before competitions?

“Nothing in particular, I always try to follow a certain routine. Considering that the races are in the evening, I try to sleep a lot, as much as possible, even until 1pm or 2pm. After that I wake up, have lunch and then shower at the same time, prepare all my clothes beforehand, choose a lucky underwear. These little things are part of my preparation.”

You’re a normal guy, come on.

“Absolutely yes (laughs).”

What is the secret of your fantastic 4×100 relay team?

“There is not a real secret. The question is how much we feel like a family and are able to go from being opponents to becoming one single thing in the track. We trust each other, we have a great relationship. We spend a lot of time together, we try to organise dinners to strengthen this relationship. We are always ready to spur each other on, when we see that someone is in trouble we remind him that we are a group, that we win and lose together. This is our strength, which allows us to present ourselves on the track not as the strongest athletes in the world but as those who make the baton travel the fastest, and to win medals.”

Is there any particular teammate you believe will win at the Roma 2024 European Athletics Championships?

“The Italian national team is going strong right now, there are many athletes who are proving their worth. After Tokyo Olympics Games there was an evolution that made them realise how important it was to believe in their own potential to achieve results. I think we can really win a lot of medals in Rome, I’m thinking of Mattia Furlani, Larissa Iapichino, obviously Gianmarco Tamberi, Leonardo Fabbri and… me.”

Well, of course.

I’ll leave myself for last but I don’t think I am. Then there are the 4×100 and the other relays, we can win several medals and I think we can make a great competition in Rome.

But the most important medal to win will be to conquer the heart of the fans, especially here in Rome.

“Exactly. We are working hard to make people discover athletics. The most important thing is for people to get to know the athlete outside of the performance, because I think the moment they start to see the life they have, the training, the difficulties they can experience then they really start to fall in love with that person and become a real fan who supports them throughout. So I think the most important part is to bring not only athletics but the guys who populate it into homes and families to make them understand that we too are human, that we have our problems, our difficulties, our joys, our families and everything else.”

Marcell, you are really a great ambassador for athletics. So, good luck.

“Thank you Fiona!”