It almost becomes a tradition. In Tokyo, the decathlete Kevin Mayer had already put on his superhero cape, the only Olympic medalist for the France team. A year later, this is what happened again at the Worlds in Eugene (Oregon), where the Frenchman obtained, on the last day, Sunday July 24, the only medal for the Blues.
At Worldthe world record holder warned: “You will not have to count on me to start the dynamic. I am at the end of the program. » Failing that, Mayer’s gold medal avoids the humiliation of a point zero.
This is one of the worst results since the creation of the Worlds in 1983. For this first, the French athletes had returned fanny from Finland. A poor performance repeated ten years later in Stuttgart. In Doha in 2019, during an already mixed last edition, the Blues had won two medals, silver and bronze. In Eugene, French athletics remains far from the five world medals in London in 2017 or the Olympic fireworks in Rio and its six medals in 2016.
At the Tokyo Olympics, Kevin Mayer fought against two formidable opponents: his great rival Damian Warner and intense back pain. Both had disappeared. The Canadian Warner, ultra-favorite, was injured on Saturday during the 400 meters. This abandonment opened the doors to the title despite the resistance of the Canadian Pierce Lepage (2nd) and the American Zachary Ziemek (3rd). The Montpellier, winner with 8,816 points, was the first to be convinced: “It opens up a avenue for me that I didn’t have to be world champion. »
The day before, it was with a strap on the Achilles tendon that Kevin Mayer had entered the stadium. A reminder of a pain – another one – that had crippled him all season. A poor contest in the shot put (14.98 meters) almost cost him the title. He complained to his new coach, Alexandre Bonacorsi: “I can’t do it”. “I have been in a haze since my arrival. I may have had indigestion. At night, I sleep badlyhe said after the first day. I did 16.22 meters in training. I did worse than at the Olympics when my back was blocked. »
A Kevin Mayer decathlon is always a special experience, with its doubts, its pains and its moments of grace. He found himself in the high jump and the 400 meters. Then, on the morning of the second day, he stumbled on the sixth hurdle with a disappointing 13.92 seconds in the 110m hurdles.
The rollercoaster of emotions culminated when he found himself on the edge of the abyss, after two initial failures at 5 meters in the pole vault. He managed in extremis to avoid the worst to make up for a large part of his delay in this event. As in Tokyo, it was above all in the javelin throw that he completed his victorious comeback in apotheosis, beyond 70 meters and the competition.
Apart from this medal from Kevin Mayer, the French seem to be treading water. In Tokyo, a delegation of 44 athletes brought home a medal and eight finalist places. In Eugene, a delegation of 28 athletes returns with six finalist places.
Among the rare satisfactions: the hammer thrower Quentin Bigot, 4th, the 800 meter runner, Gabriel Tual, 6th after his 7th place in Tokyo or in the 400 meter hurdles, Wilfried Happio, who crushed his record (4th in 47 .41 seconds). Pole vaulter Renaud Lavillenie held his rank, 5th not far from a podium. The relays came out of it better than expected: two finals in the 4 x 400 m and a third concluded with a disqualification for the 4 x 100 m.
Business and setbacks
Within the French Athletics Federation (FFA), the men have changed but the organization remains the same. After the deleterious climate of the last few years, a new duo took control, desired by the president of the French Federation, André Giraud: Romain Barras replaced Florian Rousseau as director of high performance and Patrick Ranvier succeeded the last two national technical directors, parties with losses and noise.
If this team will be judged in Paris in 2024, the crossing points that constitute these Worlds and the next ones in Budapest in 2023 are necessarily scrutinized. The first challenge was to appease the climate and avoid controversy. If the new organization chart seems to agree, the second is not reached.
Several cases have again shaken the FFA. Sprinters Amaury Golitin and Mouhamadou Fall are under threat of a permanent two-year suspension for three breaches of their anti-doping whereabouts obligations. They had been (smallly) sanctioned for their behavior within the relay in Tokyo.
One of the successes of these championships, Wilfried Happio, is involved in a delicate story, in which the federation refuses for the moment to get involved, awaiting the results of the police investigation. A sexual assault complaint has been filed against him. Insep (National Institute of Sport, Expertise and Performance) has however opened an internal investigation.
Other athletes, among the promises of medals for Paris 2024, did not hesitate to share criticism. This is the case of Jimmy Gressier, who was the only founder selected with the marathon runner Hassan Chahdi, the fault of the French minima more difficult than those of World Athletics. “I tell myself that it’s a shame to be alone, knowing that we have talented guys in France”he argued. Hugo Hay made the minimum [de world Athletics]. Too bad to deprive yourself of a guy like him.
Eliminated in the semi-final of the 800 meters, Benjamin Robert – who improved his record this year – did not feel highlighted before the Worlds: “I was put in circle 3 performance. that means that to this day they weren’t relying too much on me. We’ll see if I get into circle 1.”
Behind Kevin Mayer, the tree that hides the forest, the panorama offered by French athletics is not as shimmering as a forest in Oregon.