By David Monti, @d9monti
(c) 2018 Race Results Weekly, all rights reserved
BERLIN (09-Aug) — Mahiedine Mekhissi-Benabbad continued his dominance of the steeplechase in Europe, winning his fourth European Championships title in that discipline since 2010 here tonight at Olympic Stadium. For the 33 year-old Frenchman, who is also a two-time Olympic silver medalist, tonight’s win in 8:31.66 was his fifth overall European outdoor title; he also won the 1500m in Zürich in 2014 after being disqualified in the steeplechase for removing his competition uniform top and bib number before crossing the finish line ahead of the field.
“I am very, very happy,” Mekhissi-Benabbad told European Athletics interviewers after raising five fingers to signify his five continental titles. “I achieved something historic. My fifth European title. It was not easy.”
Indeed, it was not. The Frenchman had to beat back surprisingly strong challenges from Italy’s Yohanes Chiappinelli and Spain’s Fernando Carro. In fact it was the tiny Italian, an Ethiopian-born athlete who was adopted as a child by an Italian family in Sienna, who broke open the race with a 64.7-second lap with four laps to go. That surge pulled Mekhissi-Benabbad, Sweden’s Napoleon Solomon, and Carro away from the rest of the field. Carro, who lives and trains in Madrid, liked his chances at that point.
“I think it’s possible to win from Mekhissi,” he told Race Results Weekly, adding that moving early was the key to overcoming Mekhissi-Benabbad’s lethal sprint.
The next lap went down in 66.1 seconds, then the penultimate circuit was an even faster 65.1. That put Solomon out of contention (he would finish 12th), and put both Carro and Chiappinelli on the defensive. Mekhissi-Benabbad took the lead at the bell, and quickly ramped up the pace. The Spaniard and the Italian gave chase as the much taller Frenchman opened his stride down the backstretch, but they could not catch the flying Frenchman.
“There was a lot of stress, a lot of emotions,” Mekhissi-Benabbad said later. “I was so tense.”
Powering out of the final water barrier, Mekhissi-Benabbad opened a big lead in the homestretch and capped off his race with a 59.8-second lap. No other athlete in the field possessed that kind of finishing speed.
“For ten years I have been a winner in European athletics,” the winner said. “I have been training every day, questioning myself, I did never drop, never abate. I want to leave a legacy. I want to make my family and my friends proud, and I want to enjoy it.”
Carro, who has an Arabic-writing tattoo on his left shoulder which says, “The child inside is life,” was a clear second in 8:34.16. Chiappinelli brought home the bronze for Italy in 8:35.81. Yoann Kowal, Mekhissi-Benabbad’s French teammate and the defending champion from Amsterdam two years ago, finished fourth in 8:36.77.
“I would have liked to go home with a gold medal, but I’m very, very happy with this result,” said Carro.
Also here today, the favorites advanced to the semi-finals of the men’s 800m most notably last summer’s IAAF World Championships gold and silver medalists, Pierre-Ambroise Bosse of France and Adam Kszczot of Poland. Bosse finished third in the third of four heats, clocking 1:48.14 behind Sweden’s Andreas Kramer (1:47.87) and Denmark’s Andreas Bube (1:47.94). Kszczot won the fourth and final heat in 1:46.31, posting the fastest time of the day.
“I ran here in 2009 and for the ISTAF meeting, so I know this stadium very well,” the always analytical Kszczot told European Athletics interviewers. The two-time defending champion at the European Championships added: “I love to be here. After my gold medal in Amsterdam I hope for a gold medal here, too. In this qualification the focus was to save energy. I managed two even laps, that is awesome.”
Also moving to Friday’s semi-finals was Amel Tuka of Bosnia & Herzegovina, who owns a 1:42.51 personal best; Saul Ordoñez of Spain, who won the first heat; and Elliot Giles of Great Britain, the 2016 European Championships bronze medalist.
Action continues here tomorrow at Olympic Stadium with the qualifying round of the women’s steeplechase and 1500m, the men’s 800m semi-finals, the women’s 800m final, and the men’s 1500m final.