French athlete Wilfried Happio was warming up for his 400m hurdles race at the French Elite Athletics Championships when he was brazenly attacked by an anonymous assailant. Twenty minutes later, the 23-year-old was crowned national champion.
Shortly before the race’s start time, an individual snuck past security at Helitas Stadium in Caen, France and made his way onto the track, according to RCM Sport. The attacker located Happio as he was loosening up, asking the hurdler if he really was Wilfried Happio before landing several blows to his face. The reasoning behind the barrage is still unknown.
Olivier Vallaeys, Happio’s coach, swiftly came to his athlete’s aid, wrangling the aggressor and preventing further damage. Police later arrived at the scene to arrest the individual.
Happio was visibly shaken up by the seemingly random attack, even coughing up blood shortly before his event was set to take place. However, he declared himself fit to compete in the race.
Donning a makeshift eye patch made out of his headband and a spare bandage, Happio finished first in the 400m hurdles event, clocking in at 48.57 seconds – a personal record. Moments after crossing the finish line, the Parisian let out a thunderous yell, seemingly releasing the mixed cluster of emotions he garnered over the last hour. Despite blood dripping from his nose, Happio assured media post-race he was fine after the attack.
“I don’t want to dwell on it,” Happio told L’Equipe. “We’ll leave that to the competent people. To talk about the race, we worked a lot, we redid the music and that’s it. The feelings were good – I’m glad I did this time. Physically I’m fine.”
Despite his unforgettable performance, the hurdler did admit the altercation caused some racing difficulties.
“The race was more complicated than normal because I only had one eye,” Happio said.
With this victory, Happio has qualified for the 2022 World Athletics Championships, which are set to take place in Oregon from July 15 to July 24. He’ll look to perform better than he did in the Tokyo Olympics, where he finished seventh in the semifinals of the 400m hurdles event.