Monday, August 6, 2012

Steeplechase Scandals

Somewhere in between Sanya Richards-Ross's victory in the women's 400-meter track race at the Olympics (her first individual Olympic gold medal in her career) and Jamaican sprinter Usain Bolt's successful defense of his 100-meter Olympic track championship, I found coverage of the men's 3000-meter steeplechase, arguably the silliest event in Olympic track and field, on the tube.  The racers run (or the runners race) for about two miles over long hurdles and a pool of water, as if they were horses.  Well, that's why it's called the steeplechase, isn't it?  As one Kenyan runner from the seventies (his name slips my mind), once said,  "I do not enjoy running steeplechase, but they do give medals for it, don't they?" 
"They" gave a gold medal in London last night to another Kenyan, Ezekiel Kemboi, whose celebratory dance at the end of the race proved that nationalistic showboating is not limited to Americans.  The silver medal went to Kemboi's friend Mahiedine Mekhissi-Benabbad of France, who gained earlier notoriety on the track for reasons not having to do with athletics . . . and here's where this post stops being funny.
It seems that Mekhissi-Benabbad likes to pick on mascots for no apparent reason.  He caused a stir back in 2010 at the European Athletics Championships in Barcelona when he accosted the meet's mascot, "Barni," making it kneel to him before he pushed it over.

He pushed a mascot again earlier this year (2012) - July, in fact - at the European Championships in Helsinki after winning the 3000-meter steeplechase there, right after pushing a goodie bag out of the mascot's hand that the mascot offered to him.   


The person in this bearskin turned out to be a 14-year-old girl.  I wonder if he gets a kick out of toppling living statue performers in Paris? 
I don't expect athletes to be saints.  I remember when American swimmer Amy Van Dyken, whom I was a fan of, spat in the pool lane of rival Inge de Bruijn of the Netherlands at the 2000 Olympics just before the start of a race de Bruijn ultimately won . . . and then after the race, Van Dyken said that she too could have won it "if I were a man."  The incident lost Van Dyken some fans she never got back - you're reading the comments of one of them - and there was something incredibly surrealistic watching an American woman named "Van Dyken" bash a Dutchwoman like that (forgot where we came from, did we?).  But Mahiedine Mekhissi-Benabbad's behavior is beyond the pale. Those people in mascot costumes are not there for his abuse, and they're not living cartoon characters like in Who Framed Roger Rabbit. They're real people.  I understand that Mekhissi-Benabbad has  some kind of psychologically based hatred for mascots.  Fine.  Then maybe he should just ignore them.
One other thing I ought to mention . . . Ezekiel Kemboi has been accused of stabbing a woman back in Kenya.  Since the case is still pending, I wonder if maybe he should have been barred from competing until the case is resolved.  Because if he's guilty, he shouldn't have run.  Of course, if he's not guilty - and even in Kenya he's innocent until proven otherwise - he had every right to run.  I don't know how you make calls  in those circumstances, but the Olympic officials obviously made the call in the latter direction.
Congratulations to Evan Jager, the current American record holder in the 3000-meter steeplechase, for his sixth-place showing - which, for an American, is pretty respectable, I'm led to understand.  

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