The scene dates back to March 2012. Pascal Martinot-Lagarde, barely 20 years old, has just won his semi-final at the Indoor Worlds in Istanbul. When asked about the 60m hurdles final, the Frenchman shows refreshing self-confidence: “I love gold like any athlete. Liu Xiang [current Chinese Olympic champion and ex-world record holder] is not someone who scares me. I have no limits. I will go for it. Eyes twinkling, he bursts out laughing, “If that’s the case, I’m the one scaring him.” »

Third in Turkey for his first major senior championships, the young hopeful pocketed the first medal of an impressive collection to come: ten in total including a bronze at the last 2019 Worlds and a title of European champion 2018. Sunday 17 July (semi-final and final of the 110m hurdles), the hurdler once again represents one of the main chances of medals for the French team during these 2022 world championships, with its talented youngest Sasha Zhoya (20 years old ).

But the carefree rookie gave way to a more experienced athlete, who faced criticism and injuries that tanned his skin. Victim of a right calf injury at the end of April, he resumed sprinting just a month and a half before his start in Eugene. In 2021, he had already returned in extremis from a physical glitch to rank 5th in the Tokyo Olympic final in 13 s 16.

Loud mouth and showmanship

In 2018 and 2019, other physical hitches during his summer preparation did not prevent him from getting on a podium. “Often it happens at the same time and they are always different injuries, he explained to World in June. It’s like cycling, you can’t forget it. Even if my preparation is not “normal”, when I return to the track, I will know how to do it. I have a relative serenity. I learn with each injury. »

With his tall figure, his long hair and his flashy and surprising looks – he wore forearm muffs for a long time – Pascal Martinot-Lagarde has never left anyone indifferent. The assurance and exuberance of the young man, 2010 junior world champion and landed two years later like a meteorite on the track, came to shake up French athletics, sometimes stuck in a certain conformism. A press conference or an interview with “PML” was – and still is – the certainty of good words, a joy of life and sincerity. With a grain of madness and a sense of show that we are more used to finding in American athletes.

The hurdler suffered from its reputation. His confidence was quickly mistaken for arrogance. “The French do not like ambition, those who talk. When I show up on a track, when I say I want to break the French record, as long as I haven’t done it, they say I have a big mouth, he regrets. The speeches I had ten years ago are neither more nor less the same as today except that today I have proven myself. »

And the licensee of Montgeron (Essonne) to assume his personality: “Of course, I was crazy but this madness makes progress. When you are a young and ambitious athlete, you should not hesitate to aim for the moon, he claims. If you bring a dreamy athlete back down to earth, you force him not to perform. »

It was in a mythical athletics stadium, Letzigrund in Zurich, that the young champion experienced an episode that had a strong impact on him. In 2014, it is at its chronometric peak. On almost every outing, he improved his performance until, on July 18 of that year, he beat the French record, thanks to an impressive 12.95 seconds. , as usual, does not hesitate to display its ambitions. But this time, he missed out on the final by setting a fairly slow time for his level at the time (13 s 29). The failure is relative since he won a bronze medal.

“Avalanche of insults”

A podium that does not prevent critics from falling. By his own admission, he receives “a famous slap that badly vaccinated him”. “After my final where I miss out, I received an avalanche of insults, negative fallout. It was the first time that I spoke and that I did not assume behind, he remembers. I beat my record in every race. It was as if people were waiting for me at the bend and that at each bend, I did not crust. Then, the second you screw up, people don’t miss you. »

Recklessness flies away. Martinot-Lagarde still likes to run. His passion does not begin but in public, he is no longer the same. “I locked my interviews more, I became a bit more bland athlete who looks like everyone else,” he blurts out. He keeps his exuberance and naturalness for intimacy: “I remain myself in life. I present a restrained version in front of the journalists. We have to protect ourselves and say nothing. We are pushed to be boring, tasteless. »

Since Zürich, Pascal Martinot-Lagarde has shown extreme regularity, overcoming injuries, sometimes emerging at the end of the straight line to snatch a medal or a place of honor that we did not expect. “I’ve been part of the furniture in French athletics for about ten years,” he jokes.

If he no longer runs as fast as he did when he set his French record, he is aiming for another form of satisfaction, longevity at the top level. “I want to endure. I switch my training from performance to regularity and health. As long as I’m able to get under 13.20, I’ll keep going. Why not until the 2028 Olympics? “And to continue:” A Martinot-Lagarde of great race with a normal preparation, it can be less than 13 s 10. For the championship, it can do it. Despite his efforts, the natural is not long in resurfacing.