Emotional Nick Willis finally receives silver

HAMISH BIDWELL
Last updated 18:46 26/02/2011

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There was joy and sadness at Newtown Park tonight, as Nick Willis was presented with the Olympic silver medal he'd waited 18 long months for.

Third over the line in the men's 1500 metres at the 2008 Beijing games, Willis was eventually elevated to second after winner Rashid Ramzi tested positive for a banned substance.

But while the record books were altered to reflect Willis' increase in status, he never had the hardware to show for it until tonight. And what more fitting venue than Wellington's Newtown Park, the track where the Hutt Valley boy made his name.

Upon being presented with the his medal by International Olympic Committee member Barry Maister, in a reprise of a games ceremony, Willis punched the air several times before kissing the silverware the crowd of a couple of thousand had all come to see.

As appropriate as Newtown Park was, it shouldn't be forgotten that it was not the original venue for tonight's festivities. That, of course, was Christchurch's QE II Stadium, now one of many sporting facilities in the city damaged by Tuesday's earthquake.

"I've just left my home in Wellington this afternoon and my home is still full of my family and my friends from Christchurch,'' said Maister, himself a gold medalist at the 1976 Olympic Games.

"And as a Cantab, their insights have left a harrowing imprint in my mind because it has brought it [Tuesday's earthquake] to a very real level.''

Maister said the natural response to an event like Tuesday's is to do something and to bring people together. Willis had done both tonight, he said, and deserved the highest praise.

As he did for the run which earned him his original medal in Beijing.

"I was one of 90,000 people in the Bird's Best [stadium] in Beijing,'' Maister said.

"I was with a small group of New Zealanders, cheering ourselves hoarse and scarely able to believe that that black singlet was working its way through the field in those final 400 metres.

"It was an amazing night and an amazing and proud moment for New Zealand sport.''

Those at Newtown Park tonight might venture that having an Olympic medal presented on these shores for the first time was pretty special too.

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- The Dominion Post

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