Nick Willis disqualified at world indoor champs

Last updated 11:58 09/03/2014
Nick Willis
Fairfax NZ
FINISH LINE: Middle distance star Nick Willis has been disqualified on an alleged technicality at the world indoor athletics championship in Sopot.

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A disappointed Nick Willis has failed in his bid to have his disqualification overturned at the world indoor athletics championships in Poland.

The 30-year-old Olympic silver medalist finished fourth in the 1500m final this morning but was disqualified after event referees reviewed the tape.

Athletics New Zealand high performance director Scott Goodman said Willis was charged with stepping inside the track about 80m from the finish-line at Sopot Stadium as he tried to move inside Turkey's Ilham Tanui Ozbilen.

Goodman said the New Zealand team appealed the decision, arguing Willis had no option due to Ozbilen's actions, but the appeal was dismissed by a three-person International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) panel.

"We're fairly disappointed; we thought we had a strong case,'' Goodman said.

It was Willis' second disqualification in a world indoor final after his first, "for different reasons'', in Valencia in 2008.

The Michigan-based athlete told Fairfax Media he felt like he had "just spent 10 days away from my son and my wife for nothing''. 

"That's my initial feeling, but once I've had some time to reflect, I'll probably get it in perspective,'' he said.

Willis, inspired by Tom Walsh's shot put bronze medal and Valerie Adams' third world indoor shot put title, said he was hoping to crown a successful world championships for New Zealand with the country's third medal.

"I'm really disappointed in myself for not executing the strategy to finish in the top three," he said. 

"I really felt it was there for the taking, but [the three medalists were better than me today.

"I felt I was really capable of a medal; that's the disappointment. I felt like Jeff Wilson for that that dive over the try-line [in a Bledisloe Cup rugby test in 1994], when George Gregan knocked the ball out of his hands.''

Willis was reflecting on his disappointment while cooling down when he heard about the disqualification decision.

"I didn't even care about it at first, I was just disappointed I didn't get a medal.''

But then he decided fourth place in the world was something worth making an effort for and, after reviewing the race tape with Goodman, decided to appeal.

Goodman said the tight indoor tracks meant there was a bit of jostling and the Kiwi camp argued Ozbilen had obstructed Willis, who ended up finishing ahead of the Turk.

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But the jury did not uphold their argument and Goodman said there was no further avenue of appeal. The disqualification cost Willis $US8000 in prize money.

Willis said it was "a really hard lesson to learn''.

"I should have got myself in a better position a couple of hundred metres earlier,'' he added.

The Hutt Valley stalwart had made a valiant attempt to break into the medals bracket but was edged in the final sprint finish.

Willis finished in 3min 38.47sec behind runaway race winner Ayanleh Souleiman, a 21-year-old 800m specialist from Djibouti, Ethiopia's Aman Wote in second and 2012 world indoor champion Abdalaati Iguider of Morocco in third.

Souleiman, the world outdoor 800m bronze medalist in 2013, hit the front from the starter's gun, knowing his finishing kick would be too fast for the rest of the field if he was still in the lead on the final lap.

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