ZURICH - Yohann Diniz of France smashed the world 50km walk record at the European Athletics Championships on Friday in a time of 3hr 32min 33sec. The previous record of 3:34:14 was set by Russia's Denis Nizhegorodov in Cheboksary in May 2008. The ecstatic 36-year-old Diniz even had time to stop for a few seconds to collect a Portuguese flag from a fan and also waved a French flag as he crossed the finishing line for his third successive European title in Zurich.

"I started off cautiously, with the rest of the pack and as usual I had pins and needles in my legs. I caught the Russians and asked myself if I had made a mistake because I did the same thing at Moscow (10th at 2013 world championships)," said Diniz, who won the fourth gold medal at the Championships for France. "I felt very fluid with my technique and very relaxed and I could see that the Russians were not walking very consistently so I preferred to pull away a bit and get my times down to 4min 20secs a kilometre which I knew I had in my legs. I knew I could go a lot faster and I worked on everything from the fifth kilometre to the 50th." he added.

In changeable weather conditions, Diniz had to cope with rain, sun and wind as he seized control of the race with 14km to go. He strode away to finish 3min 48sec in front of Slovakia's Matej Toth with Russian Ivan Noskov claiming bronze, a further 1min 20sec back.  Diniz's previous best time and the French record dated back to 2009 at Dudince, Slovakia when he clocked 3:38:45. France's Mahiedine Mehkissi-Benabbad was stripped of his gold medal in the 3,000m steeplechase at the European athletics championships Thursday after peeling off his running vest before he crossed the line. Entering the home straight with a hat-trick of titles already in the bag, he removed his French singlet, put it between his teeth and implored the crowd to acclaim him as he ran bare-chested down the home straight to complete a convincing victory in 8min 25.30sec.

But the 29-year-old appeared to contravene rule 143.8 of the International Association of Athletics Federations, stipulating that "bibs may not be obscured in any way."  The two-time World Championship bronze medallist initially received a yellow card warning but a protest was lodged by the Spanish team and upheld, prompting a counter protest by the French that was rejected.

Yoann Kowal, Mehkissi-Benabbad's French team-mate, was upgraded from silver to gold, with Krystian Zalewski of Poland promoted to second and Spain's Angel Mullera to third.  "I would like to get justice for the winner's behaviour," said Mullera. Mekhissi-Benabbad said: "When I took off my vest it was because of my joy of course. It was the pleasure of winning. I was so happy to defend my title. I did not know I was going to get a yellow card for that." The Frenchman has a reputation as the bad boy track and field, having pushed mascots after winning the European steeplechase final in Barcelona in 2010 and in Helsinki in 2012. He was also given a suspended sentence by the French athletics federation, fined 1,500 euros and ordered to perform 50 hours of community service after getting into a fist fight with fellow Frenchman Mehdi Baala after a Diamond League 1500m race in Monaco in 2011.

Thursday also saw a protest involving another French athlete. In the men's 110m hurdles final, Dimitri Bascou finished third behind Sergey Shubenkov of Russia, who prevailed in 13.18sec, and Britain's William Sharman. However, he was subsequently disqualified for stepping out of his lane, prompting the promotion of fellow Frenchman and strong favourite Pascal Martinot-Lagarde from fourth to third. "I came here to get the gold," said Martinot-Lagarde. "If it is not the gold, I want no other medal. I might give my bronze to Dimitri Bascou."

There was a straightforward French success in the men's triple jump final, Benjamin Compaore winning his country's first gold in the event with a distance of 17.46m. "This medal is not the most beautiful thing in the world for me," he said. "The most beautiful thing is my little daughter Cassandra, who is 15 months old. She is here in the stadium. I fought for her."

Former Olympic champion Barbora Spotakova had to fight from behind in the women's javelin final, nailing gold with a fifth round effort of 64.41m.  In doing so, the Czech athlete maintained the unbeaten streak she has enjoyed since giving birth to a son in May last year. The women's pole vault was equally dramatic, Russia's Anzhelika Sidorova snatched gold with a third time clearance of 4.65m after risking defeat by passing at 4.60m.