Nick Willis christened Wellington's newly laid running track last night by clocking the fastest 3000m at the New Zealand championships for 15 years.
The Wellingtonian was in complete control as he headed off defending national champion Malcolm Hicks and Hugo Beamish in the final event of the Capital Classic.
Willis' time of 7min 57.63sec was the best since Jonathan Wyatt won the event in 1998 and no sluggish effort considering the final kilometre was covered in a rapid 2min 31sec.
But his appearance in his home town was less about the clock than the occasion and the 34-strong field said much about the popularity of the Beijing Olympic silver medallist.
"They asked me if I wanted two races but I said no, how often do you get the chance to run with 33 other guys in your home town. It was more exciting this way for the runners and the spectators," Willis said after crossing the finish line a few strides ahead of Hicks.
It was way off Willis' best for 3000m, a blistering 7min 45.97sec in 2005, and the challenge of 2011 champion, Wellington's Hamish Carson never eventuated as he trailed back to finish 11th.
However, it was still a fitting way to open a track that was given its official warrant of fitness earlier in the day.
Willis led the race early before dropping back for the middle laps and then bursting clear with about 300m to go.
"I figured I'd probably lead the last few laps so if that's the case I don't want to lead the middle ones as well, then I can have a bit of a psychological rest and then get back at it again [for the finish]," he explained.
"It's still kind of a mental [block], the leading thing. I still haven't conquered it. I'm not very good at it, that's one of my weaknesses, but hey, I'm 29, so I'm not really worried about my weaknesses. I'll work on the things I enjoy the most."
And that includes racing in New Zealand where he's bucked his long distance training regime to run the mile in Whanganui, now the 3000m in Wellington and next week a mile on grass at Christ College in Christchurch. "I want to race when I'm home; its silly being here and not entering some races," he said.
"Having said that I have to try and qualify for the world champs again next year because my times from last year don't carry through. I need these early races to get myself sharp enough for when I run the classic in March in Sydney."
He is also looking forward to the arrival of his first child, due in June, but will first head down to Wanaka to continue his training regime.
"It's our second favourite place behind Lower Hutt," he said before being joined on his warm down by a group of under-5s.
In other results, Te Rina Keenan threw 55.98m with her first throw to win the women's discus and Joseph Millar, of Tauranga, continued his winning ways in the men's 100m in a time of 10.61sec.
Christchurch Old Boys' Kelsey Berryman won the women's 100m in 12.21sec, while Emma Sutherland won the high jump with a best of 1.77m.
- The Dominion Post
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