“Fuck, I was third… At least I gave it my all. On Tuesday July 19 in Eugene (Oregon), Wilfried Happio was still third a few meters from the finish line of the 400-meter hurdles final, before finally taking an unexpected fourth place. He failed two hundredths from a world bronze medal won by the American Trevor Bassitt (47 seconds 39 hundredths), 3rd behind the Brazilian Alison dos Santos (46 seconds 29 hundredths) and another American, Rai Benjamin (46 seconds 89 hundredths).

After the fourth place of hammer thrower Quentin Bigot and the disappointment of the 110m hurdles (Pascal Martinot Lagarde, Just Kwaou-Mathey and Sasha Zhoya not qualified for the final), a medal would have been good for the French team.

At 23, Wilfried Happio broke his own record. And this time, he even came close to a mythical French record – long a European record – that of Stéphane Diagana: 47 s 41, against 47 s 37.

He had beaten his personal record for the first time at the end of June, in a very particular context: a few minutes before the final of the French championships, he had been attacked by the brother of an athlete, who filed a complaint against him for sexual assault.

Asked if he achieved the level of performance, he was divided: “I’ll tell myself that in a few days. For now, I really have fourth place in my head. But I’m happy to get closer to Stéphane’s time. He is a mentor and an example. »

The Lille licensee added: “Before arriving here, I would not have believed it if someone had told me that I was going to finish 4th, with the names that there are. In Tokyo [at the Olympics], I didn’t even qualify for the final. You have to know how to seize the opportunities in life. Today I may have grabbed one. »

«Oh, there is Warholm! »

However, in the particular context of Karsten Warholm’s poor form, which may not be repeated often, Wilfried Happio may well have missed the result of a lifetime. American Trevor Bassitt “started slower, which meant he had a bit more juice than me at the end. He managed to grab the two hundredths that he lacked, he analyzed more lucidly. Congratulations to him, now it’s the last time he does this to me (smile). »

What was he thinking when he pulled his handicap on world record holder Kartsen Warholm, who was breaking down as he entered the home straight? “I said to myself so much, ‘Stop telling yourself it’s Warholm, otherwise you’re never going to make it first.’ When I walked by, I said “Oh, there’s Warholm!” I thought I was going to beat him but once you really do, you’re always a little surprised. »

This result opens new horizons for the athlete, who will have to solve his extra-sporting problems, he who has been heard by Insep (his place of training) but not yet by the police. “We’ll work accordingly. We are all a little human. At the end of the race, you tell yourself that it’s a question of the mind, who is the most up to date in his training, “he said.

The one who gained almost a second and a half on his best time in less than a month is not even surprised: “It may seem crazy. I see it more in the sense that I’ve been doing 49 seconds for three years. I stagnated, while I trained hard. It needed a click, he explained. When you are very young, when you experience periods of doubt, you can stumble and set limits.

From August, Wilfried Happio will have a new opportunity to show that this is not due to chance. In Munich, he will be one of the contenders for the podium of the European championships. “I take the lead in the European rankings, it’s nice. I have great respect for my competitors and I know what they can do,” he said. He will certainly find a vengeful Karsten Warholm there who is sharper than in Oregon.