Nick Willis 'running on empty' at Olympics

TONY SMITH
Last updated 05:00 10/08/2012

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A day after Sir John Walker expressed astonishment at Nick Willis' failure to take a medal race that was perfectly set up for him, more theories are emerging on his misfire in his Olympic final.

Walker, Montreal gold medallist in the same event, the 1500m, said Willis had been "beaten by bunnies" in Wednesday's final and missed a great opportunity.

But a Wellington sports rehabilitation specialist and natural therapist wonders whether the middle-distance star was "running on empty" in the final and could have been suffering "adrenal exhaustion".

Gary Moller - whose sister Lorraine Moller won a bronze medal at the 1992 Olympic Games in Barcelona - said Willis' ninth-place finish in London could have been the result of "too much extra-curricular activity, running on empty and being in one of the classiest bunch of runners ever assembled".

"If you are the owner of a thoroughbred race horse contesting the Melbourne Cup, you sure would not be show-ponying it all over the place during the weeks and days leading up to the biggest race of its short career," Moller blogged.

He said Olympians, like race horses, were "highly strung creatures" easily "thrown off their game by the slightest of upsets", citing shot putter Valerie Adams' omission from the start list 24 hours before her event.

"High-performance creatures" needed routine, quiet time, focus and rest. "Nothing at all must be allowed to disturb or upset them," Moller said. "Their adrenals need to build reserve capacity, not to be emptied during the days before they must produce the most high-octane burst of biological energy possible.

"In Willis' case, was he asked to do too much leading up to his race - flagbearer for the New Zealand team, countless interviews and appearances?

"The overt pressures of the growing expectations of a nation were clearly placed on his thin, athletic shoulders. Did he have enough quiet time? From the outside looking in, this appeared not to be the case."

Moller "almost without exception" discovers several nutrient imbalances when he does a hair tissue mineral analysis of an elite athlete.

This indicated they were "close to running on empty" and "varying degrees of adrenal exhaustion".

"What I mean by this is the athlete simply has not got the nutrients inside them to fuel sustained high performance."

Moller said Willis was supported by "some of the best medical talent available". But he believed the Lower Hutt athlete "displayed some tell-tale physical signs of adrenal exhaustion" in the weeks leading up to the Olympics.

"Sure, he reported feeling great in the days leading up to the Big Day, but I wonder just how much reserve was there actually sitting in the tank?"

High-performance athletes were poised on a knife-edge, Moller said. "The slightest slip and they fall into exhaustion, injury or both. A part-empty tank may explain, in part, why he failed to fully recover after the semis and why his legs did not have anything left in them once the hammer went down towards the end of the race."

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