Nick Willis sneaks into men's 1500m semifinals

TONY SMITH
Last updated 19:33 14/08/2013
Nick Willis
Fairfax NZ
NEW APPROACH: Athletics star Nick Willis.

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Beijing Olympic Games silver medallist Nick Willis acknowledges he has a lot of improving to do after sneaking into the world track and field championship 1500m semifinals.

Willis had the 21st fastest time of the 24 qualifiers in tonight's heats and said that he didn't feel very good the whole way, qualifying as one of the fastest losers.

"It felt like a sprint, those guys were too good for me today, I wasn't even able to see what happened up front I was just trying to hang on, that's what happens when you race the best in the world," he said.

Willis, who injured his calf at the Shanghai Diamond League meeting in mid-May, has only had one mile race since then in his home town of Michigan.

"A 3m 56s mile is still a long way from kicking a 3m 35s 1500m or whatever. I was hoping to run a lot better based on indicators.

"I drew a strong heat today and if I can't make the top six I've got a lot of work to do if I even get through to the final," he added.

"There's every chance with a couple of good nights sleep and the continual improvement coming back that I might improve.

"I'm still going to race in Europe afterwards because I know it is going to come at some stage, I was just hoping it would come for today," Willis said.

The 30-year-old from Lower Hutt finished a disappointing ninth in the first heat but can thank the generous qualifying concessions for making the semifinals on Saturday morning (NZT).

The first six from each of the three heats qualified automatically along with the next sixth fastest losers at Luzhniki Stadium.

Willis was fortunate to be in the fastest of the three heats - won by the man who beat him for the gold medal in Beijing, Kenya's Asbel Kiprop.

But Willis had to wait until the end of the third heat before his semifinal berth was confirmed. His time, 3min 39.85sec, was the 21st fastest of the 24 semifinal qualifiers. He was the slowest of the sixth fastest losers but his time was faster than three automatic qualifiers and would have been good for fourth in the second heat.

But the Michigan-based middle distance star clearly has a lot more to do to clinch a place in Monday morning's final. He was at the back of the leading bunch throughout his race, which Kiprop led from the end of the first lap to the finish.

Kenyans won all three heats and a fourth compatriot qualified for the semifinal, raising hopes of a Kenyan clean medals sweep.

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Kiprop, the reigning world champion, took out the first race in 3min 38.15 sec. Silas Kiplagat, who was the world silver medallist in 2011, led the second heat home in 3min 39.31sec and Nixon Kiplimo Chepseba triumphed in the third heat in 3min 38.37sec.

Kenya's Bethwell Birgen was fourth in heat three and Kenya-born Turkish athlete Iham Tanui Ozbilen was third in the second heat.

Willis' former University of Michigan teammate Nathan Brannen (Canada) ran a fine race to finish second to Chepseba in 3min 38.49sec.

Other qualifiers included London Olympics silver medallist Leonel Manzano (United States) and Abdalaati Iguider (Morocco) and 20-year-old former footballer Aynaleh Souleiman, wo won Djibouti's first world championship medal since 1991 when he finished third in the 800m in Moscow.

- Fairfax Media

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