Wilfried Happio would certainly have dreamed of another context for a first participation in a world final, Tuesday July 19 in the evening in Eugene, Oregon (Wednesday at 4:50 am Paris time). The 23-year-old, specialist in the 400m hurdles, is paradoxically going through the best moments of his sporting career and one of the worst moments of his personal life.
He certainly arrived in the United States having beaten his personal record twice in three weeks. European champion hopes in 2019, he had not managed for three years to pass under the barrier of 49 seconds. In Caen, on June 25, in the final of the French championships, then in Eugene, in the semi-final of the Worlds on July 17, the runner achieved the two best races of his career: 48.57 seconds and 48.14 seconds .
But he achieved these two performances in very special circumstances. In Caen, he had been attacked during his warm-up, a few minutes from his race. A man punched him in the face. Hit in the eye, his face bleeding, he rushed off with a pirate headband concealing a bandage.
“I’m surprised at the circumstances of my record. Yes maybe. It has been three years since I knew that I had it in my legs. At times like these, you have blinkers. I could only see the hurdles, my lane and the finish line,” he said.
Then, two days after the incident and before flying to the world championships, he learned that a complaint had been filed against him for sexual assault by an athlete. Her attacker was quickly identified as the complainant’s brother.
Internal investigation opened at Insep
Two days before his entry into contention, Saturday in Eugene, for the series of 400 meters hurdles, he did not elude the question of his participation in the Worlds: “It did not arise. The case is in the hands of the courts. I trust him, he said. I refocused on the track and the sporty side. It is my role to represent my country in my best form. »
Licensed to Lille, Happio tried to put on a good show. “To say I’m unaffected would be a lie. Such a situation would affect everyone. I do a sport where you have to stay mentally strong. I have to be present in these championships,” he explained.
He also provided some details about the case: “Yes, I filed a complaint [for the beatings]. And he justified himself: “I have not yet been heard by the police but I have responded to Insep”, the National Institute of Sport, Expertise and Performance, where he is trains as well as the athlete who accuses him. For its part, Insep has confirmed the opening of an internal investigation.
The French Athletics Federation (FFA), for its part, is waiting to see for the moment. “It was not the right timing” to make a decision, explained its national technical director (DTN), Patrick Ranvier. I don’t think we have to substitute for justice and we are not in absolute urgency. Today, Wilfried is presumed innocent. In this case, nothing prevents him from participating. »
In October 2020, a complaint for willful violence had already targeted Wilfried Happio, filed by Janet Scott, a French triple jumper. The two athletes had established a brief sentimental relationship. In December of the same year, the disciplinary commission of first instance of the FFA had released the rider.
According to the Team, the commission had considered in particular that the facts were “not sufficiently established” and had said that it was unable “to establish whether Mr. Happio assaulted Ms. Scott or whether he acted in self-defense. “. A version disputed by the young woman and her lawyer.
“I have my nose to the grindstone”
In Oregon, Wilfried Happio is playing the first grand final of his career after being eliminated in 2021 in the semi-finals of the Olympic Games in Tokyo. He does not hide his ambitions: “I want to improve my record and be one of the best in the world. »
In an ultra-competitive discipline, with the Norwegian world record holder Karsten Warholm, the American Benjamin Ray or the Brazilian Alison dos Santos, the Frenchman has no complexes: “Some might say that they fell into the wrong generation . I think it makes you want this level. The more public and interest there is, the more it raises the stakes and the objectives. »
After having once again improved his record in the world semi-finals, he still relished: “What can I say except that I’m in the nails: that’s what we said to each other with my coach, that I had to beat my record in the semi-finals to hope for a final, he analyzed. I’m there. I’m so happy but I want to stay focused on my final, I have my nose in the handlebars. »
After satisfying his sporting goals on the track, Wilfried Happio will have to explain himself on the current case.