Dream Mile dash makes Nick Willis' bucket list

TONY SMITH
Last updated 05:00 13/06/2014
Nick Willis
IAIN MCGREGOR/Fairfax NZ
NEED FOR SPEED: Kiwi Olympian Nick Willis has run his fastest mile in Oslo.

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Nick Willis is ''stoked'' at achieving a ''huge career bucket list item'' by cracking the 3 minute-50 second mile barrier in a confidence-boosting performance before next month's Commonwealth Games.

The 31-year-old Wellingtonian produced a personal best in clocking 3min 49.83sec to finish second behind world indoor champion Ayanleh Souleiman from Djibouti in the Bislett Games Diamond League Dream Mile in Oslo, Norway, yesterday morning.

Willis dashed off a Facebook message saying, simply: ''3:49!'' and then tweeted that he was ''so stoked'' because ''sub 3.50 is a huge career bucket list item''.

Willis bettered his previous personal best set six years ago when he ran 3min 50.66 sec at the Prefontaine Classic in Eugene, Oregon, in 2008. Yesterday's Dream Mile scorcher was just 0.75sec outside the New Zealand mile record of 3min 49.08sec, set by Sir John Walker at the Bislett Games in 1982 - a year before Willis was born.

Athletics New Zealand's track and field selection panel convener Graham Seatter insisted no pun was intended when he said Willis was ''arguably in the best nick he's ever been in''.

He said the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games silver medallist was in ''red-hot shape'' and had recently turned in a top 5000m performance and ran a half-marathon in 1hr 07 minutes.

Seatter said producing a string of top efforts ''seven weeks out from the Commonwealth Games'' set ''a different challenge'' for Willis in terms of maintaining his peak for the Glasgow 1500m.

The 2006 Commonwealth champion and 2010 bronze medallist had been in good leadup form before the 2012 Olympic Games, but faded to ninth in the final after running a fast semifinal.

''But it looks like he has a bit more longevity to his peak now. He's got a great background of training behind him this time and that should help him hold that peak.''

Willis' Oslo mile was the seventh-fasted in the world this year.

Only two Commonwealth athletes, Asbel Kiprop, the 2008 Olympic champion, and 2010 Commonwealth Games gold medallist Silas Kiplagat, have recorded faster 1500m times in 2014 than Willis' personal best, 3min 30.35 set at Monaco in 2012.

Seatter said Willis had also been entered in the 5000m at Glasgow and the athlete's brother, New Zealand middle and long distance running coach Steve Willis, was confident he could run both.

''Steve said that the 5k, which is a straight final, would be a great last hitout for him before the 1500,'' Seatter said.

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Willis said in a post-race television interview in Oslo yesterday that running the longer distance was making him sharper. ''I guess it shows that the 5000m training I've been doing hasn't impacted on the shorter distance. If anything, it probably helps it; I'm very happy.''

The Bislett Games event had been an opportunity to achieve his ''primary goal'', ''and thankfully, I got it''. ''And I almost won it.''

He was watching his split times each 200m as he set out for a crack at the 3:50 mark. He knew he needed to run 27sec over the final 200m to break the barrier, but in the final stages, he strived to ''just hold my form'' because German rival Homiyu Tesfaye was closing. ''I was more worried about getting second,'' said Willis, who acknowledged ''Souleiman ran fantastically''.

He earned $US6000 ($NZ6900) for second place.

Meanwhile, the other New Zealander competing at the latest Diamond League meeting, Zane Robertson, finished 13th in the 5000m in 13min 27.09sec.

Willis and Robertson will next race at the Ostrava Golden Spike meeting on Wednesday where they will face each other in the 3000m.

The next round of the Diamond League will be in New York on Sunday where Valerie Adams will be aiming for her 50th consecutive victory in the shot put and Nikki Hamblin will race in the 3000m.

- The Press

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