Nick Willis cruises into 1500m final
MARC HINTON IN LONDON AND TIM O'DONOGHUE
The Nick Willis show rolls on in London.
The 29-year-old New Zealand middle-distance sensation qualified comfortably for Wednesday morning's (NZ time) final of the Olympic 1500m where he will attempt to go one better than the silver medal he won in Beijing four years ago.
The long-striding Kiwi was never in any danger of missing a spot in the final and appeared to be running well within himself as he came home third in a respectable time of 3min 34.70s.
However, he did narrowly escape the incident in which Canada's Nate Brannen fell.
Willis family and friends had their hearts in the mouths in their Lower Hutt home this morning when Brannen, a good friend of Willis, tumbled out of the event.
Willis' step-mother Penelope Trought said it was definitely a heart-stopping moment.
Brannen was running towards the end of the field when he appeared to have been spiked and went down.
"There was an initial horrible feeling among those assembled at the Willis household of 'oh God Nick's down' … but then we all said oh no, it's Nate."
Ms Trought admitted to a huge surge of relief when friends and family in the household, including Willis's two sisters Ruby and Harriet, saw the man in the black singlet surge to an easy third place.
Ms Trought said her step-son was a good friend of Brannen, who took silver in the 1500-metres at the 2010 Commonwealth Games in Delhi ahead of Willis, who took bronze.
"Nick will take no joy from realising Nate went down. They've done a lot of training together over the years," Ms Trought said.
Willis' race, won by Morocco's Abdalaati Iguider in 3:33.99, was significantly quicker than the opening semifinal – eight seconds and change - and the ease with which he worked his way through the field and had all the kick he needed down the finishing straight suggests he's an excellent chance to be there or thereabouts come the final.
Not that he was giving away too much after the race as he slipped through the long lineup of reporters with a similar speed that he showed in the race.
"It's never easy when you have to run 3:34 in a semifinal," said the Wellingtonian who now resides in Ann Arbor, Michigan.
"Sometimes I suffer from a bit of over-confidence in that respect," he added, referring perhaps to his willingness to be part of a fast-run qualifying race.
The New Zealander, coached by Ron Warhurst in Michigan, said he was "happy" with his run, but he was concerned with one aspect of it as he beat a hasty retreat from the media mixed zone.
''The issue now is to get the lactate acid from my legs as that race was a lot faster than I expected,'' he said, before heading off out to the warmup track for a major warmdown.
Kenyan Silas Kiplagat, the Commonwealth Games champion, came in just ahead of Willis in 3:34.60, while fellow Kenyan Nixon Chepseba, who's had the third fastest time of the year, was fourth in 3:34.89. All looked comfortable in doing so.
The opening semifinal, which dawdled through the first couple of laps, was won by Algerian Taoufik Makhloufi in a pedestrian 3:42.24, with defending Olympic champion Asbel Kiprop second in 3:42.92 and Ethiopia's Mekkonen Gebremedhin third in 3:42.93.
- © Fairfax NZ News