MONTE CARLO, Monaco, July 23 – Top French runners Mehdi Baala and Mahiedine Mekhissi Benabbad seem set to escape any sanction from the French athletics federation after the duo came to embarrassing blows on the track.
Baala, world silver medallist in 2003 and bronze medallist in the Beijing Olympics in 2008, clashed with Benabbad, the 3000m steeplechase Olympic silver medallist, after the end of the 1500m at Friday’s Diamond League.
The duo had finished 9th and 11th in a high-quality race won by Kenyan Silas Kiplagat, in one of the last outings before the August 27-September 4 world championships in Daegu, South Korea.
But at the end of the race Benabbad lashed out at his senior team-mate when he came over to console him, headbutts and slaps shared between the two, to the jeers and whistles of a large crowd at the Louis II stadium.
Fourth-placed Nick Willis of New Zealand had to step in to separate the pair who rounded on each other like boxers, footage of which is already an internet hit through video-sharing website YouTube.
The violent exchange did not stop there, however, the runners continuing to exchange strong words as they moved off the track into the bowels of the stadium.
“There was a misunderstanding,” said Ghani Yalouz, head of the French athletics federation, quoted by L’Equipe daily.
“I told them to apologise to each other and that’s what they did.”
Baala said immediately after the fracas: “I didn’t understand. I went over to see him, moved to put my hand behind his head and he said ‘I have a reason for not talking to you’, and after that I felt his head against mine.
“When you feel threatened, you do what there is to do. It’s pathetic to see things like that. People like that don’t have their place in sport. But saying that, it’s very rare to see assholes like him.”
Benabbad was more measured in his reaction, saying that he had not seen Baala raise his arm to console him when he was on his knees after the race.
“I thought it was all a bit of a laugh, I approached him and he gave me a little headbutt, after which I responded. It’s normal.”
While appearing to have been cleared by Yalouz, himself a former wrestler, the question now remains whether organisers of the Monaco meet or world athletics’ governing body, the IAAF, will punish the scrapping Frenchmen for bringing the sport into disrepute.