Nick Willis named NZ's Olympic flagbearer

JONATHAN MILLMOW IN LONDON
Last updated 09:36 27/07/2012
MIKE SCOTT/Fairfax NZ

Runner Nick Willis has been named New Zealand's flagbearer for the London Olympics opening ceremony.

Nick Willis
LAWRENCE SMITH
FEEDING FRENZY: Team captain Nick Willis is hoping to "feed off'' off NZ's medals momentum as he aspires to climb the top tier of the podium in London.

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Nick Willis will earn himself a round of golf with one of the game's former greats if he wins the 1500m gold medal at the London Olympics.

Amid all the excitement of today being named New Zealand's flagbearer at tomorrow's opening ceremony at the Olympic Games in London, Willis revealed he had made a deal with former golfing great Nick Faldo.

"I've taken two years off golf because of the knee surgery I had, and I can't wait to get back on the golf course again," a beaming Willis said.

"I added Nick on twitter and I thought I'd send a feeler out there and see how this thing (twitter) works.

"I said 'if I win gold in London how about 18 holes of golf' and he said 'not if, but when, you're on'. I'd fly anywhere in the world for a game of golf with him, he is one of my heroes.

"The first name was a cause for becoming a fan of him of as a child but he is also one of the great ambassadors of the sport and one of the great teachers of the sport so I could learn quite a few things for my own swing."

Willis won a silver medal in the 1500m in Beijing and was favoured by most to carry the flag after shot put star Val Adams and rower Mahe Drysdale ruled themselves out.

Speculation he could be handed the honour heightened last week when he tweeted he was off to buy some new shoes for the opening ceremony.

Willis said he was approached back in March about his availability and leapt at the prospect.

"I was very surprised," Willis said.

"I'd actually spoken about it a couple of weeks earlier with my wife (Sierra), saying you never know because the rowers  might not choose again and Valerie always has a strict preparation plan for the Olympics that she wouldn't want disrupted.

"But then I thought there might be a cyclist. I assumed there must be other people."

Willis said the decision was ''more than I could ever have dreamed''.

''I just can't wait for this great opportunity.''

Willis said when he first competed in Athens at the age of 21 ''I was very young and very selfish''.

But he said this morning he was no longer an ''individual-minded athlete'' and this was a chance for him to pass his lessons on ''to the younger and senior members of the team''.

"What an amazing honour it is to be named as flag bearer for New Zealand," he said.  "My heroes Peter Snell and John Walker each carried the flag, so to walk where they, and many other New Zealand legends have, is more than I could have ever dreamed of.

"I will use this opportunity to offer support to my fellow 2012 Kiwi Olympians, and hopefully inspire them through my own performances at the Games."

Willis was presented with the New Zealand Olympic team's cloak in a ceremony at the Olympic village in London. Later in the evening (early today, NZ time) he was honoured at a black tie gala dinner hosted by the Governor General of New Zealand, Lieutenant General, the Right Honourable Sir Jerry Mateparae.

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The 1500m runner's step-mother Penelope Trought said there was great excitement in the Willis Hutt Valley household this morning when news of Nick's appointment came through.

Father Richard is currently in Rome but will be travelling to London for the Olympics.

"Nick's sisters Harriet and Ruby (pupils at Sacred Heart College in Lower Hutt) were both over the moon when the news came through. It's a great honour for the family," Ms Trought said.

New Zealand Olympic team's chef de mission Dave Currie said he chose Willis because he covered all the qualities he looked for in a team leader. They include previous Olympic experience, ability to honour and inspire team-mates and medal potential in these games.

Just last week, Willis showed himself to be in medal contention when he clocked 3m 30.35s for third at the Diamond League meeting in the Mediterranean principality, his final outing before the London Olympics.

Willis took 1.44s off the mark he set at the same meeting last year. It was an Oceania record, beating Australian Ryan Gregson's 3m 31.06s at this meet two years ago.

The race was won by Beijing Olympic champion Asbel Kiprop (Kenya) in 3m 28.88s - the world's fastest time this year.

"The role of flag bearer is to both lead and inspire the Olympic team," Currie said.

"Nick's results speak for themselves and his silver medal run in Beijing was a great moment in New Zealand sporting history. His drive and focus are complimented by quiet modesty, humour and generosity."

Willis will lead a New Zealand party of just 60 into the London Stadium, comprising 39 athletes and 21 officials. New Zealand has 184 athletes in London but many are competing on the next couple of days or in some cases are not arriving in London until the second week.

The 29 year-old Wellington-born United States-based Willis said the low turnout for the opening ceremony did not dampen his delight.

"Athletics is in the second week so we have a whole week to get ready, but all the sports that have to compete in the next four-days I wouldn't advise it either. You train all year to get ready for this event.

"Sadly we know what happed to Mahe Drysdale (fell ill) four years ago so it would be terrible to see that happen to another athlete.''

Unlike Drysdale, who had to row the morning after the opening ceremony in Beijing, Willis has a week until the heats of the 1500m. He has set up camp in a cottage 20 minutes outside of London and believes he is peaking at the right time for his Olympic event.

"You never know if you have (peaked). You hope, at the moment it seems to be going to plan."

- Stuff

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