Mahiedine Mekhissi-Benabbad was stripped of the 3,000 metres steeplechase gold medal after performing a shirtless celebration down the final straight at the European Athletics championships on Thursday.
The Frenchman, well clear of the rest of the field, pulled off his vest as he came around the final bend, put it in his mouth as he waved to the crowd. He then held it in his hand as he sprinted down the final straight for what appeared to be his third successive European gold in the event, but turned out to be a premature celebration.
He initially received a yellow card from a track official for “acting in an unsporting or improper manner” before he started his lap of honour. But he was later disqualified after Spain, whose athletes finished fourth and fifth, made an official protest citing rules on “clothing, shoes and bibs”, organisers said.
Mekhissi-Benabbad’s compatriot Yoann Kowal, who had moved from fourth to second in the final 200 metres, took gold instead, ahead of Krystian Zalewski (Poland) and Spain’s Angel Mullera.
“When I took off my vest on the last metres, it was because of my joy, of course,” he told the championship’s official website before the disqualification was announced. “It was the pleasure of winning. I was so happy to defend my title. The main thing was to win. I did not know that I was going to get a yellow card for that. But this yellow card, this is nothing. It was just the emotion.”
Kowal said: “What Mahiedine did with his vest was not disturbing or anything, nothing important.”
Mekhissi-Benabbad has been involved in controversy in the past and was once suspended along with team mate Mehdi Baala after they traded blows following the 1,500 metres at a Diamond League meeting in Monaco. At one point Baala head-butted Mekhissi who responded by swinging his arms wildly as he threw a series of punches, some of which missed their intended target.
Diniz’s World record
Fighting stomach pain throughout the race, Yohann Diniz of France set a world record in the 50 km walk to win the title for a third time. Walking the early part of the race through driving rain, the defending champion finished in 3 hours, 32 minutes, 33 seconds, slicing 1 minute, 41 seconds off the six-year-old mark held by Russia’s Denis Nizhegorodov.
The 36-year-old Frenchman had gastric trouble for most of the morning but refused to let it affect him. “I was in pain throughout the race,” Diniz said.
Slovakia’s Matej Toth finished second, more than three minutes behind Diniz. Ivan Noskov of Russia took bronze.
In excellent cool, rainy conditions in Zurich’s old town, Diniz could have lowered the record even further had he not taken time to pick up a French and Portuguese flag to celebrate his nation and family heritage in the closing stages of the race.
“I could have been even faster if not for the flags,” he said.
Diniz went off early with Mikhail Ryzhov but realized the Russian’s pace was too uneven for a sustained effort. At the 30K mark he went off on his own and soon realized could achieve something special.