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.
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.