Ruling goes against Willis after disqualification

TONY SMITH
Last updated 05:00 10/03/2014

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

The 30-year-old Beijing Olympic Games silver medallist finished fourth in the 1500m final in Poland yesterday 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 the 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", at Valencia in 2008.

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

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

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.

Immediately after the race, he was disappointed with himself for not executing the strategy to finish in the top three.

"I really felt it was there for the taking, but [the three medallists] 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 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, felt he had a strong case.

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

But the jury did not uphold their argument and Goodman said there was no further avenue of appeal.

The disqualification cost Willis $US8000 ($9400) in prizemoney.

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He said it was "a really hard lesson to learn", but he felt he should have got in a better position 200m earlier.

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

Souleiman won in 3min 37.52sec.

- Fairfax Media

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