Track & Field
Heartbroken, frustrated and a little embarrassed, New Zealand's Nick Willis experienced the other end of the Olympic spectrum today in the 1500 metres final.
Willis couldn't match a blistering finish as his bid for a second straight Games medal came up well short in front of 80,000 fans at the Olympic Stadium.
He faded to ninth, after being "perfectly" placed with a lap to go in a race won by Algerian Taoufik Makhloufi in 3min 34.08s. Willis' time of 3:36.94 was more than six seconds off his personal best set in Monaco just a matter of weeks ago.
"The plan was to conserve as much energy on the first two laps as possible and then find a gap when it appeared," said Willis, the surprise silver medallist from four years ago in Beijing. He had been considered a good chance to become New Zealand's first repeat medallist on the track since Peter Snell.
"Everyone else moved wide and I managed to scoot up on the inside. I felt like I was in the perfect position with 500 to go. But when the pace picked up and I went with that, it was the extension of my fitness or what my legs could do today.
"It's just heart-breaking when you put in so much work all year, and so many people stayed back from the start of their work day to watch that and to not be able to come through on the day that mattered most felt quite frustrating. I just had nothing left."
Willis said he'd felt a little tired before the race and in hindsight rued being in such a fast semifinal.
"Two and a-half weeks ago I ran the best time of my life finishing much faster than I did today running six seconds slower, so obviously something wasn't right. I just felt really tired.
"I felt good in the strides, then when the going got tough it was just a bit embarrassing. I shouldn't be embarrassed because it was an Olympic final, but knowing I came in with such good credentials, and probably talked a bit much too, which came back to bite me in the arse."
The 29-year-old Kiwi – the oldest competitor in the race – gave it his best shot, but had no answer to a finish led by a breakaway kick from Makhloufi from about 250m out.
The Algerian, who emulated compatriot Noureddine Morcelli's victory from 1996, completed a storybook victory. He had originally been thrown out of the final for not trying in his heat of the 800m but was reinstated.
He also carried a knee injury into the race, but showed no effects of it as he left the field for dead, easily holding off American Leonel Manzano and Moroccon Abdalaati Iguider who had to settle for the minor medals.
Willis noted, ruefully, that of the top finishers, all but the fourth-placed American Matt Centrowitz came from the opening, and slowest, of the two semifinals.
With wife Sierra, brother Steve and long-time coach Ron Warhurst urging him on from the stands, Willis looked to be in with a shot as he positioned himself beautifully along the inside track through the first three laps.
But when the time came, he had nothing to give.
"I feel bad for my coach and my wife and my family who put in so much this year. It would have been even harder for them to watch in the stands," said the US-based runner who has pledged to carry on through till Rio in 2016.
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