REDEMPTION FOR MEKHISSI-BENABBAD, SECOND GOLD FOR FARAH AT EUROPEAN CHAMPIONSHIPS
By David Monti, @d9monti
(c) 2014 Race Results Weekly, all rights reserved
ZURICH (17-Aug) — On the final day of the 21st European Championships here at the Stadion Letzigrund, France’s Mahiedine Mekhissi-Benabbad and Britain’s Mo Farah both struck gold, but those medals had greatly different meanings.
For the temperamental Mekhissi-Benabbad, who was disqualified after winning the steeplechase last Thursday for removing his uniform top before crossing the finish line, winning today’s 1500m was an emotional imperative. Fiercely competitive, but also impetuous, Mekhissi-Benabbad ran from the gut today in a slow and sloppy race which saw four athletes tumble to the track in two separate collisions.
“I am an instinctive runner,” Mekhissi-Benabbad told reporters after the race.
Those instincts proved right today, as the tall Frenchman not only managed to avoid the collisions, but benefited from them. After Ireland’s Ciaran O’Lionaird went down with about 600 meters to go, an even bigger crash ensued just before the bell. Germany’s Florian Orth stumbled, fell forward and went down to the track. The defending champion, Norway’s Henrik Ingebrigtsen, had to take quick action to avoid him.
“I had a good position with 400 to go (but) a guy tripped in front of me and I got out of position,” Ingebrigtsen told the press in crisp English. “He fell right in front of me so I had to take two steps to the left.”
Britain’s Charlie Grice and Ukraine’s Stanislov Maslov also got caught in the colission (Grice actually fell twice), but Mekhissi-Benabbad was in front of the crash and used the moment to sprint away from the field. Ingebrigtsen was trapped behind the colission.
“It was a bit of a mess,” said Britain’s Chris O’Hare. “The whole race was a mess.”
But not for Mekhissi-Benabbad. He quickly hit full flight, and despite Ingebrigtsen’s 3:31 speed, it was simply impossible for him to catch the Frenchman who had such a big lead he was able to slow down and celebrate in the homestretch, although this time his uniform top remained on. He clocked a painfully slow 3:45.60, more than ten seconds outside of the championships record.
“I knew that I could win today,” he said. I gave all that I had to win.”
Both Ingebrigtsen (silver) and O’Hare (bronze) accepted the results, but were disappointed that a championships race had played out this way.
“If I had been in a better position with 800 to go, I would have been in a better position to fight for a medal,” said Ingebrigtsen, who ran 3:46.10. O’Hare, who was timed in 3:46.18, had similar thoughts: “I’m sure pleased with bronze, but gold is what I came for.”
For Farah –whose winning time of 14:05.82 was the slowest since the third edition of these championships in 1946– his victory was more of a coronation. The double Olympic gold medalist came here to win two gold medals, and did just that. Nothing less was expected of him.
“History’s very important to me and I always hope to make my country proud,” Farah told European Athletics interviewers. “There’s been some down times but two golds here is great and now I hope to get ready to face the big guys next year at the IAAF World Championships.”
Farah’s victory did not come without a fight. After seven laps in the 71-second range, the pace finally got serious with with three laps to go. Farah, and his British teammate, Andy Vernon, were on the front, and ran a 66.1-second circuit, which Farah followed-up with a 58.3 seconds for the penultimate lap. But he wasn’t finished. At the bell he shot ahead and only Azerbaijan’s Hayle Ibrahimov, a former Ethiopian, could go with Farah.
“Mo Farah is my friend but I want to finally beat him one day,” Ibrahimov told European Athletics interviewers. “I feel like I am always behind him.”
Ibrahimov did his best to catch the Briton, but Farah clocked a blistering 52.3-second final lap, showing the kind of speed that only the world’s best milers possess.
“There’s been a lot of talk about me not being able to deliver but I’ve done my job,” Farah said.
Ibrahimov got the silver (14:08.32) and Vernon got the bronze (14:09.48), backing up his silver medal from the 10,000m.
“I wasn’t sure I’d even get to this startline a few months ago so to get two medals here this week is amazing,” Vernon said.
In a very competitive women’s steeplechase, Sweden’s Charlotta Fougberg led a group of four women out of the final water jump and appeared to have control of the race. But Germany’s Antje Moeldner-Schmidt fought back, and only took the lead over the final barrier. The tall German clocked a season’s best 9:29.43 to claim gold, to Fougberg’s 9:30.16. Spain’s Diana Martin got the bronze in 9:30.70, narrowly beating Belarus’s Svitlana Kudzelich (9:30.99).
“It’s great to win a medal but I wanted the gold medal today,” Moeldner-Schmidt told European Athletics interviewers. “I worked very hard to recover after my knee gave way off the last barrier but this is a very big medal for me.”
The 22nd European Championships in Athletics will be held in Amsterdam in 2016.