Mekhissi-Benabbad and the rage to win | 12.10.2012
|French steeplechaser Mahiedine Mekhissi-Benabbad.|
Once he had hung his second Olympic medal around his neck he retreated from competition. “To be effective, you have to become someone else,” his agent, Rachid Esmouni told AFP. “You need to be full of rage.”
The implication being that there are limits to the competitive spirit which needs recharging after an intense period of racing. This summer Mekhissi-Benabbad struck gold for the second time at the 2012 European Athletics Championships in Helsinki before he travelled to London and repeated a fabulous silver medal at the Olympics adding to the previous medal from Beijing.
And all of this in the 3000m steeplechase, an event made to measure for East African dominance. No wonder he needed time off. But that does not mean resting.
“I no longer had the desire [to compete],” admitted Mekhissi Benabbad. “Even though I continued to train twice a day very hard throughout the whole of the month of August.”
The athlete was talking at a reception at his home track at the August Delaune stadium in Reims where he was guest of honour on Wednesday evening: “I grew up not 200m from here,” he recalled. “I remember coming to see football matches, but only the second half because it was free then.”
It was a big surprise when the Frenchman won his first Olympic medal at the age of 23. But anyone who had seen his triumph the previous year in Debrecen at the European Athletics U23 Championships would not have been that taken aback.
His talent was clear for all to see and later on in that pre-Olympic season he reduced his best to a respectable 8:14.22. “I have closed the circle,” he affirmed referring to this latest triumph in London. “I have proved to everyone that it [Beijing] was no flash in the pan. Compared to 2008 I have progressed.”
At 27, Mekhissi Benabbad now has Olympic gold in his sights. After two silvers, nothing less than global gold will satisfy him: “I hope one day to beat the Kenyans,” he said.
“I am double Olympic silver medallist, double European champion, bronze medallist at the worlds. Five medals, that’s not bad at the age of 27. But I am not stopping there. I won’t stop until I am Olympic champion. I hope it will happen in 2016 in Rio.”