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Athletics | International

Mehdi Baala (L) and Mahiedine Mekhissi Benabbad

Fighting teammates suspended

Top French runners Mehdi Baala and Mahiedine Mekhissi Benabbad have been suspended pending an inquiry into their embarrassing punch-up on the track on Friday.

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The two men squared up and traded blows at the end of the 1 500m, prompting Bernard Amsalem, the president of the French athletics federation, to set up a meeting of the disciplinary committee.

The committee will meet within the next eight days during which time the two runners will be provisionally suspended,

Baala, world silver medallist in 2003 and bronze medallist in the Beijing Olympics in 2008, clashed with Benabbad, the 3000m steeplechase Olympic silver medallist, after the end of Friday's Diamond League race.

The duo had finished 9th and 11th in a high-quality race won by Kenyan Silas Kiplagat, in one of the last outings before the August 27-September 4 world championships in Daegu, South Korea.

But at the end of the race Benabbad lashed out at his senior teammate when he came over to console him, headbutts and slaps shared between the two, to the jeers and whistles of a large crowd at the Louis II stadium.

Fourth-placed Nick Willis of New Zealand had to step in to separate the pair who rounded on each other like boxers, footage of which is already an internet hit through video-sharing website youtube.

The violent exchange did not stop there, however, the runners continuing to exchange strong words as they moved off the track into the bowels of the stadium.

"There was a misunderstanding," said Ghani Yalouz, technical director of the French athletics federation, quoted by L'Equipe daily.

"I told them to apologise to each other and that's what they did."

Baala said immediately after the fracas: "I didn't understand. I went over to see him, moved to put my hand behind his head and he said 'I have a reason for not talking to you', and after that I felt his head against mine.

"When you feel threatened, you do what there is to do. It's pathetic to see things like that. People like that don't have their place in sport. But saying that, it's very rare to see assholes like him."

Benabbad was more measured in his reaction, saying that he had not seen Baala raise his arm to console him when he was on his knees after the race.

"I thought it was all a bit of a laugh, I approached him and he gave me a little headbutt, after which I responded. It's normal."


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