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French Steeplechaser is Disqualified for Stripping
One of the major storylines of the European Track and Field Championships was the stripping winner of the 3000 Meter Steeplechase. Mahiedine Mekhissi-Benabbad looked to be the clear winner of his third straight European title in the Steeplechase. He was so elated by the prospect that over the final water barrier he removed his singlet and began waving to the crowd. He then finished the race with the singlet in his hand. Mekhissi-Benabbad was originally given a yellow card by the official for “acting in an unsporting or improper manner.” He was later disqualified from the event and stripped of his Gold medal. “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.”
Perhaps Mekhissi-Benabbad would have received a little more mercy if he did not have a history of creating trouble. After winning the European Championships Steeplechase in 2012 Mekhissi-Benabbad walked up to the mascot and shoved it.
The person inside the mascot costume was a 14-year-old girl.
Mekhissi-Benabbad’s hate of mascots can be traced even further back though. In 2010 after winning his first European Championship in the Steeplechase he asked the mascot to get down on his knees, and then shoved him.
Admittedly the first mascot shoving in 2010 looks like a joke. The one in 2012 looks a little bit angrier, but let’s give him the benefit of the doubt and say it was a follow up joke. He certainly wasn’t joking in 2011 when he got into a fist fight with fellow countryman Mehdi Baala.
To make matters interesting, this guy isn’t some mid-level guy working the circuit. He has medals . . . a lot of them. He earned a Silver Medal in the 2008 Olympics in the Steeplechase and followed that up with another Silver in 2012. He also won Bronze in the 2011 World Championships as well as the 2013 World Championships. Mekhissi-Benabbad boasts pr’s of 8:00 in the 3000 Meter Steeplechase and 3:33 in the 1500. He seems to be the only man who can break up Kenyan dominance in the steeplechase.
Perhaps it is possible that Mekhissi-Benabbad is using the fact that he is fast to justify his outrageous behavior. Track and Field is different in Europe than it is in the United States, and being a good Track and Field athlete is actually somewhat famous there. Of course, they are nowhere near being Soccer stars, but there are actually fans of the sport in Europe. This type of behavior likely gives Mekhissi-Benabbad a higher profile there. being stripped of his gold is certainly a punishment, however, one has to wonder if the increase in fame that has likely occurred from his behavior has not reinforced it.
After the race, Mekhissi-Benabbad’s countrymen Yoann Kowal, who was awarded the Gold Medal upon Mekhissi-Benabbad’s disqualification stated that he didn’t think that Mekhissi-Benabbad had done anything wrong. However, there is a phenomenon that is sometimes observed in basketball wherein a player that is well-known for dirty play gets called for a foul that they didn’t commit because of all the times they have committed it before. In other words, they don’t get the benefit of the doubt. Perhaps that is what happened with Mekhissi-Benabbad in this situation, and perhaps it is a good thing.
A supporter of Mekhissi-Benabbad might explain the mascot attacks as a joke and defend him by saying that Mehdi Baala started the fist fight. However, this guy seems to find himself as the center of controversy (and subsequently the center of attention) quite often. Perhaps he has a personality type that attracts controversy.