Retired last January at the age of 37, Mahiedine Mekhissi has one of the finest records in the French middle distance race. Three Olympic medals over 3000 meters steeplechase in 2008 and 2012 (silver) and 2016 (bronze), two bronze medals at the World Championships (2011, 2013) but also five European titles garnish his rich record. The CV of the man who caused a wave of indignation on Tuesday with a tweet comparing Benjamin Netanyahu to Adolf Hitler and accusing the West of “collaborators” in the conflict between Israel and Hamas, should have been even more extensive.
In 2014 in Zurich, an additional continental title was within his reach but an incident cost him victory in the final. One of the many controversies that have spoiled an exceptional career. That day, Mahiedine Mekhissi headed towards a quiet coronation when, in the final straight, he took off his jersey. A way of exulting and celebrating his victory by playing with the public that he harangues but which did not please the organizers at all. His act, contrary to the regulations, is deemed “unsporting”. The Frenchman lost his first place due to a complaint from the Spaniards. Bitter, he responded in the most beautiful way by winning the 1500 meters two days later.
An impulsive character, Mahiedine Mekhissi collected incidents on the athletics tracks between 2006 and 2022. Her first encounter with glory in 2008 at the Beijing Olympics was also tinged with a certain bitterness. To everyone's surprise, he won the silver medal in the 3,000m steeplechase between two Kenyans, the undisputed kings of the discipline, but this coup had given rise to some doubts and even suspicions of doping. “When you bring home medals for your country and you learn that a suit is being cut from behind, it hurts your heart. (...) These accusations of doping hurt me, it was pure malice and jealousy,” he confided to Le Monde, disappointed by the questions surrounding his progress. “In France, as soon as a North African performs, they equate it with doping, I proclaim it loud and clear,” he added. Eighth child of a family of Algerian origin living in Reims, Mahiedine Mekhissi never tested positive until her retirement last January.
The following year, he stood out by showing the face of an athlete with a fiery temperament, irascible at times. At the World Championships in Berlin, he was forced to retire even though he was the favorite in the 3000m steeplechase. Furious, he threw a bottle of water against a railing before attacking the media. “Don’t talk to me!”, he blurted out in front of stunned journalists. He apologized for the outburst but in Monaco, two years later, his nerves gave way once again. He misses his race and at the finish comes to blows with his compatriot Mehdi Baala. A fight on the lap, the images are rare and above all violent. The French Athletics Federation is cracking down: the two men are found to be co-responsible and receive a ten-month suspension (five suspended) and three years' probation.
The lesson was clearly not learned by the French champion who sadly distinguished himself once again in 2012. This was just before being targeted by a complaint for intentional violence filed by a manager of the CREPS (Regional Center for popular education and sport) of Reims. Mahiedine Mekhissi did not deny the altercation but assured that no blows had been struck. The prosecutor finally decided on criminal mediation between the athlete and the complainant.
At the European Championships in Helsinki, he won the final. A triumph tarnished by his incomprehensible attitude when the mascot of the event comes to him handing him a gift. The Frenchman violently slaps the hand of the teenager hidden under the costume and pushes it away with both arms. The images are shocking. Mahiedine Mekhissi will apologize by assuring the world that his gesture was “absolutely not mean.”
Two years previously, another mascot, that of the European Championships in Barcelona, had also been a victim of the variable geometry mood of the rider mounted on the highest step of the podium. After being picked up by the character, he pushed him to the ground, knocking him over. A new escapade which only deepened the incomprehension between the French public and the athlete, considering himself unloved and misunderstood. Since Tuesday and its release on Twitter, the gap has only widened between the two parties.
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