Mahiedine Mekhissi-Benabbad disqualified after early celebration

French man pulled off running vest before clearing final hurdle in 3,000 metres steeplechase

As sporting celebrations go not many athletes would have the nerve to pull off their running vest before clearing the final hurdle in the 3,000 metres steeplechase then carrying it in their teeth over the finishing line while waving half-naked and hysterical at the crowd.

No athlete should get away with it either, and so Mahiedine Mekhissi-Benabbad from France - who had both the nerve and the reputation to do exactly that - was later disqualified after winning the European Championship title last night: it wasn't a universally popular decision, although the title still went to France, team mate Yoann Kowal promoted from silver to gold.

Mekhissi-Benabbad was initially yellow-carded (a mere warning of his behaviour), but the Spanish federation then appealed the result: IAAF rules do state that bibs “may not be obscured in any way”, and Spain’s Angel Mullera had initially finished fourth, giving them some obvious grounds for their appeal.

So, almost two hours after the race, and the medal ceremony already postponed until today, the result was revised to show Kowal as European champion, with Mullera promoted to bronze, while Mekhissi-Benabbad was disqualified under 142.4b (conditions of athlete clothing).


Initially, Mekhissi-Benabbad didn't seemed bothered by it all, but then this is the same athlete who pushed over the mascot immediately after winning this title in Helsinki two years ago, and has also been temporarily banned in the past by his federation for engaging in an on track punch-up with another Frenchman, Mehdi Baala.

The Irish highlight came a little earlier in the night, when although couldn't quite match the heights of The Flying Dutchwoman, Kelly Proper did some low flying of her own inside the Letzigrund Stadium last night, running a personal best over 200 metres and falling just a few places short of the final.

Having improved her best to 23.16 seconds to qualify for Zurich, Proper clocked 23.15 here last night, finishing fifth in her semi-final: running out in lane eight didn’t help her chances, yet the 26 year-old from Waterford battled hard to the line, and wasn’t far at all off qualifying.

Proper ended up ranked 10 fastest overall, but only eight could make the final.

Fastest of them all was Dafne Schippers, who won the second semi-final in 22.48 seconds, looking exactly like the star in the making that she surely is. At 22, and specialising in the heptathlon before the start of this summer, Schippers looks unbeatable going into this evening’s 200 metres final, having already claimed the 100m on Wednesday.

Win that, and she’ll match the Dutch sprint double last achieved by Blankers-Koen in 1950: Blankers-Koen also won four Olympic gold medals in London in 1948, and would have won a lot more had war not intervened, although Schippers appears to have the limitless natural talent that Olympic titles may only be a matter of time for her, too.

For Proper, unquestionably The Flying Irishwoman of her time, it was still a satisfying day, which began earlier when she also earned automatic qualification form her heat, finishing fourth in 23.37.

“I said after my heat that the one thing I could guarantee was that I’m going to give it my absolute best, my all, in the semi-final, and that’s what I did,” she said. “It’s the fastest I’ve ever run, in my second race of the day, in a European Championships semi-final. So I can’t really have any complaints.

“Maybe another couple of hundreds of a second might have got me through, but sure you’ll always have that in your head. Hopefully I can still run a bit faster this season, but it’s on to the relay, next.

No such joy for Christine McMahon in her semi-final of the 400 metres hurdles earlier in the night. Having survived some considerable drama to come through her heat, the Ballymena athlete found herself chasing hard from the gun, even while running in an outside lane: she ended up eighth and last in 57.31 seconds.

No joy either for Laura Reynolds in the 20km walk earlier in the day, where a combination of illness and injury forced her to pull out just before the halfway mark: Reynolds was never in contention, and dropped after 4km. Victory went to the Russian Elmira Alembekova, in 1:27.56.

Ian O'Riordan

Ian O'Riordan

Ian O'Riordan is an Irish Times sports journalist writing on athletics