World Indoor Athletics Championships: French hurdler Just Kwaou-Mathey wins a bronze medal

When Kevin Mayer or the torchbearers are not there to avoid zero points for the Blues, hurdles remain a sure value in French athletics

World Indoor Athletics Championships: French hurdler Just Kwaou-Mathey wins a bronze medal

When Kevin Mayer or the torchbearers are not there to avoid zero points for the Blues, hurdles remain a sure value in French athletics. At the World Indoor Championships in Glasgow (Scotland), Wilhem Belocian and Just Kwaou-Mathey had the potential to reach the podium in the 60 meter hurdles.

Saturday March 2, at the Emirates Arena, only the second achieved it, third in the final thanks to a time of 7 seconds and 47 hundredths. Behind the untouchable American hurdler Grant Holloway – winner in 7 s 29 (championship record), now double world champion and undefeated over the distance for ten years – Kwaou-Mathey was able to do well. The Italian Lorenzo Simonelli finished in second place.

“I went to get it [this medal]. I didn't do a good half and I really wanted to do well in the final, he reacted. I didn't have a perfect race but I'm happy to leave with my first world medal. » Accustomed to third places (especially in Europe), the athlete had fun with a touch of annoyance: “It’s another third place, I think there’s something bad happening to me. Well if I get three at the Games, that’s good. »

Wilhem Belocian, 28, missed in the semi-final, hitting the first hurdle. Just Kwaou-Mathey, 24, reached the final at the last minute, tied for second in the race with Belgian Michael Obasuyi in 7.54 seconds. “The French hurdlers, we have always been good. I even think we could have had two medals,” said Kwaou-Mathey.

Saturday morning, the eldest had nevertheless made the strongest impression in his series which he had easily won in 7 s 47. But in the semi-final, the Guadeloupean did not technically master his race, hitting the first hurdle: “ I'm a little disappointed, but I remember the positives from this winter season. I took risks and today it didn’t work out. »

Since the start of the year, in the absence of Pascal Martinot-Lagarde, injured, and Sasha Zohya, who is skipping the winter season, Belocian and Kwaou-Mathey have gone blow for blow. The first beat the second by a hundredth – or 7 s 44 against 7 s 45 – at the French championships, in Miramas (Bouches-du-Rhône). But it was Kwaou-Mathey who ran the fastest and improved his personal best by achieving 7 s 43 at the Liévin meeting (Pas-de-Calais), finishing second, behind the ogre Holloway. “With Just, we have a brotherly relationship. I call him my twin. We have the same vibe and that helps a lot, said Wilhem Belocian before the Worlds. We fight among French people, it provokes this emulation at the international level. »

A few months before the Paris 2024 Olympic Games – from July 26 to August 11 – Just Kwaou-Mathey left his cocoon at CREPS in Poitiers, in Vienne, for Créteil (Val-de-Marne), and swapped his coach Fabien Lambolez for Giscard Samba; a gamble which is, for the moment, paying off.

Hopes for the Paris Olympic Games

Arriving in Scotland full of optimism, Just Kwaou-Mathey “felt the medal was possible”. “My season is good. I put out some interesting times, consistent at a high level. I arrive with the third world performance and more confidence,” he said during a press briefing two days before the Worlds.

The athlete enjoys the winter season. Last year, he had already improved his record, was crowned French champion and won a European bronze medal. In the process, the summer transition to 110m hurdles did not disturb him: he had lowered his personal best by almost twenty hundredths. By achieving a fantastic time of 13.09 seconds at the Paris 2023 meeting, he became the fourth fastest French hurdler in history. Only Pascal Martinot-Lagarde (12.95), Ladji Doucouré (12.97) and Wilhem Belocian (13.07) did better.

Every year, Just Kwaou-Mathey progresses. His indoor season – crowned with a first world medal – augurs well for good days over the longer distance. And with a time mark below 13.10, all hopes of international podiums are open to him.

Regular and present in decisive moments, the sprinter knows that a personal best – however good it may be – is not enough to ensure results in major competitions. “It’s a good time, but you have to do it again and at the right time. In the championship, that’s what counts,” he confided last year to Le Monde before the World Championships in Budapest.

From now on, the “twins” only have one idea in mind: Paris 2024. “It’s hard not to think about it. We hear about it every day, we see ads, explains Wilhem Belocian. I feel more enthusiasm and excitement than pressure. » The challenge is launched between the French hurdlers. “It’s this summer that we’re going to find out who is the best Frenchman,” says Just Kwaou-Mathey, bravado. An ideal state of mind to bring back an Olympic medal to a French athletics team, which may really need it.