THE DISQUALIFIED FRENCH athlete Mahiedine Mekhissi-Benabbad, stripped of his European Championship gold medal in the 3,000m steeplechase for whipping off his vest before the end of the race, on Friday denied he acted arrogantly.
Mekhissi-Benabbad, 29, who was on course for his third successive European title before his disqualification, also dismissed criticism that his action showed disrespect to his fellow-competitors.
“There was no arrogance,” the Frenchman wrote on his Facebook page. “Sorry, I was only thinking of celebrating my victory like a footballer. There was no arrogance towards my fellow-runners or the crowd.”
The two-time World Championship bronze medallist initially received a yellow card warning but a protest lodged by the Spanish team was upheld, prompting an unsuccessful counter-protest by the French.
Yoann Kowal, Mekhissi-Benabbad’s French team-mate, was upgraded from silver to gold, with Krystian Zalewski of Poland promoted to second and Spain’s Angel Mullera to third.
French athletics federation president Bernard Amsalem, described Mekhissi-Benabbad’s action as “unacceptable”, but criticised the way the matter was handled.
“The action was unacceptable, you don’t take off your vest during a race, it isn’t done,” he said.
“At the same time, he took off his vest and it didn’t hurt anyone. He’s impulsive. But it should have stopped there. Unfortunately, the Spanish lodged a protest. I would never have lodged a protest, the Spanish acted badly.”
Mekhissi-Benabbad has a reputation as the bad boy of track and field, having pushed mascots after winning the European steeplechase final in Barcelona in 2010 and in Helsinki in 2012.
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He was also given a suspended sentence by the French federation, fined 1,500 euros and ordered to perform 50 hours of community service after getting into a fist fight with fellow Frenchman Mehdi Baala after a Diamond League 1,500m race in Monaco in 2011.
Mekhissi-Benabbad was due back on the track in Zurich on Friday in the heats of the 1,500m.