French runner Mahiedine Mekhissi-Benabbad had his gold medal taken away after he decided to pop off his shirt right before he crossed the finish line of the 3,000-meter Steeplechase at the 2014 European Athletic Championships in Zurich on Thursday.
Officials scolded the 29-year-old middle-distance runner on his victory lap when he received a yellow-card warning, but that wasn’t enough for the Spanish contingent at the race. The country, whose runners finished fourth and fifth, filed a formal complaint against Mekhissi-Benabbad, who they said violated the event’s clothing rules. The fourth-place runner from Spain will now receive the bronze medal with Mekhissi-Benabbad’s disqualification.
The French appealed but officials stood firm.
This isn’t the first time the Algerian-born runner has been in trouble:
At the 2010 European Athletic Championships in Barcelona, Mekhissi-Benabbad looked like he was going to make out with a ghostly mascot named Barni until he decided to push him over after the steeplechase race.
The next year at the Diamond League in Monaco after the men’s 1,500-meter race, Mekhissi-Benabbad punched his teammate Mehdi Baala in a squabble. (The French Athletics Federation ended up handing down a 10-month suspension to both racers, as well as $2,130 fines and 50 hours of community service, the Associated Press reports.)
And in 2012, after winning the Steeplechase at the European Championships in Helsinki, Mekhissi-Benabbad directed his aggression back to the mascots, this time shoving a 14-year-old girl dressed up as a character named “Appy.”
Mekhissi-Benabbad’s antics have never resulted in his medals being stripped, but that may be because he saved his antics for after the race instead of during, unlike with Thursday’s shirt incident.
Surprisingly, perhaps, the hot-tempered runner has handled the officials’ decision to disqualify him with grace. He said (via The Telegraph):
“I respect the judges’ decision. … I celebrated my victory as a [soccer] player, there was no arrogance towards my opponents or the public. I have too much respect for my rivals and too much love for my sport to behave in an unsporting way.”