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Olympian Nick Willis claimed his first national 3000 metres title at the Capital Classic last night but had to overcome a dogged challenge from local 21-year-old Hamish Carson.
Willis clocked 8min 15.12sec as he farewelled the capital in style before his next assault on the world stage.
Carson, coached by John Walker's coach Arch Jelley, sprinted with Willis in the straight, finishing just 0.6sec back as the experienced Olympian prevailed.
Willis said Carson gave him a huge fright.
"He was right on my heels. I took off with 200m to go and I felt really good doing it," Willis said.
"Then the crowd started cheering and I thought this kid must be right on me."
Willis leaves New Zealand tomorrow ahead of the Boston Indoor Games on February 6, and the Birmingham Indoor Grand Prix a fortnight later where he will meet the best Ethiopian and Kenyan runners.
"That's [Birmingham] the big one. I'm treating that as my world indoor championships."
He has endured a hard spell of summer training, giving the Lower Hutt 26-year-old confidence for the year ahead.
"Now when I step on the line in these professional races in the US and Europe, hopefully that will have got the cobwebs out of my system," he said. "This time in New Zealand has been the healthiest. It's been a really successful five weeks of training."
Willis hopes to win the 1500m and 800m gold at October's New Delhi Commonwealth Games. He will forgo the world indoor championships to concentrate on his Games ambitions.
"I'm choosing to run the minimal amount of serious races so I'm at my best in October."
He missed last year's world championships in Berlin through injury, but believes he is over the hip injury that forced his withdrawal.
Teenager Aaron Pulford finished third in the 3000m after leading into the wind in the early laps.
Wellington's Andrew Wallace was fourth in 8min 20.92sec, an outstanding run for a junior, with defending champion Kim Hogarth sixth.
Earlier, Willis was in a class of his own over 800m, with the bleak skies at Newtown Park unable to dull the 1200-strong crowd cheering from the stands.
In the women's 3000m national championship race, Canterbury's Fiona Crombie retained her title, outkicking team-mate Hannah Newbold in the straight.
With the Commonwealth Games approaching in nine months' time, the men's sprints were hotly contested.
James Dolphin won the 200m while South African-born Aucklander Carl van der Speck won the 100m.
Wellington's Marissa Pritchard won the women's triple jump from her Auckland rival Nneka Okpala.
- © Fairfax NZ News