16 JUL 2009 General News Paris, France

Mekhissi-Benabbad’s aim: European record and entry into sub-8 club - Paris, ÅF Golden League

Olympic silver medallist Mahiedine Mekhissi-Benabbad at the pre-meet press conference in Paris (Bob Ramsak)Olympic silver medallist Mahiedine Mekhissi-Benabbad at the pre-meet press conference in Paris (Bob Ramsak) © Copyright
Speaking of the eve of his appearance at the Meeting Areva, the fourth stop of the ÅF Golden League 2009, Olympic 3000m steeplechase silver medallist Mahiedine Mekhissi-Benabbad made his intentions perfectly clear: to break his countryman Bouabdellah Tahri’s European record of 8:02.19, and to join the event’s still-exclusive sub-eight minute club.

“I’m expecting a very good time,” said the 24-year-old, who stormed to the forefront of the event last summer after his close runner-up finish to Brimin Kipruto in Beijing. Pacesetters have been given the task to run through the first two kilometres in 2:40 and 5:20, and the Frenchman is extremely confident that he’ll be tailing them throughout. “If they do a good job, I should get under eight minutes.”

It’s a club that only eight others have joined, at the moment an exclusive haven for Africans who have largely dominated the event for the last three decades. But the enigmatic Mekhissi-Benabbad believes there is no reason that he shouldn’t enter their ranks tomorrow at the Stade de France.

With a recent altitude training stint at Font Romeu in the Pyrenees behind him, Mekhissi-Benabbad said he is very well prepared in advance of his second steeplechase contest of the season.

“There is no reason I can’t win tomorrow,” he said matter-of-factly. The field includes Kenya’s 2004 Olympic champion Ezekiel Kemboi – whom Mekhissi-Benabbad defeated in Beijing last summer - the fastest man in the field after a 7:58.85 PB he set in Doha in May. While the Frenchman clearly respects his competitors, he is just as clearly not intimidated.

“I don’t focus on them,” he said.” I’m not scared of them. If anything, I’m only scared of myself sometimes, when I’m not in good shape.”

Mekhissi-Benabbad has raced five times over four distances this outdoor season, setting career bests at each of the distances. Clearly he's in good shape. His only steeplechase start, in Hengelo in June, was a virtual replay of the Olympic final where was once again edged by Beijing winner Kipruto. His 8:06.98 knocked nearly two seconds from his career best, boding well for the follow-up campaign to his breakout season.

“My dream is to run under eight minutes,” he said. “And I believe in my dream. Most important Friday will be the time. Even if I finish second and run under eight minutes, that will be okay.”

Mekhissi-Benabbad said that his success in Beijing changed everything about his young career and his outlook for the sport.

“Everything changed after the Olympics. I gained more experience, I gained more confidence, more knowledge.”

“My main goal is to win the World championship,” he said. “But for tomorrow, the time is most important.”

Bob Ramsak for the IAAF