Relief for McCarthy after hair-raising race

David McCarthy had a bumpy ride today before securing his place in tomorrow night's 800m semi-finals at the European Athletics Championships in Barcelona.

McCarthy led his heat with 200 metres to go, but Holland's Robert Lathouwers, in trying to take the Irishman on the inside where there was no obvious gap, was forced infield.

Lathouwers continued running and rejoined the leading runners around the final bend, bumping unceremoniously into McCarthy and knocking him off his stride.

The Le Cheile clubman battled on and finished an eventual fifth (1:49.53), outside of the three automatic qualifying spots but it was enough for him to progress as a fastest loser.

Lathouwers crossed the line in first position but was disqualified despite protesting that there had been 'a huge gap' for him to go past McCarthy on the back straight.

He was adamant that that had been the case, and explained that he had continued to run infield and back onto the track in order to finish the race and hold onto the hope of a protest.

It did not work out for the Dutchman, and afterwards McCarthy was left to sum up one of the most eventful races of his career.

Commenting on his race strategy, the Kildare native said: "It was a little bit slow at 400 - I think we went around in 54 - the plan was, if it was slow, to hit the front with 300 to go and make it really fast and hard from there.

"If guys were going to beat me, they were going to have to do it the hard way. So that's what I did. I got in front, 200 to go I was relatively comfortable, I was okay.

"The Dutch guy, Lathouwers, decided to go for a gap that wasn't there. I held my ground, and he ended up on the infield.

"He took a shortcut across the shot put area, I think it was, and he came back onto the track 30 metres later, and hit me one back. I could see him coming, but there was nothing I could do about it.

"It just completely knocked me out of my stride. It was very difficult to get back into a rhythm at that stage, and I went backwards from there.

"But I think had it not happened, I would have been strong and probably would have contended for one of the automatic spots, which is what I was aiming for.

"He's been disqualified and I've still managed to hang on to a fastest loser's spot. No real damage."

Asked about Lathouwers' remarks, McCarthy insisted: "If there was a huge gap, he would have got up it. I held my ground and kept him behind me.

"He just went for a gap that wasn't big enough. The judges have agreed with me. The main thing is that I'm through, and I've another go tomorrow."

McCarthy's time makes him fifth fastest of the 16 qualifiers for the semi-finals. He has been drawn in the second semi, along with British favourite Michael Rimmer and Spain's European indoor silver medallist Luis Alberto Marco.

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