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Nick Willis eyes Olympic double

Published: 5:19PM Saturday March 24, 2012 Source: ONE Sport

  • Nick Willis

Olympic silver medalist Nick Willis stepped into relatively unfamiliar territory to capture his second 5000m title at the NZ Track& Field Championships at Waitakere.

Running his final race before returning to the United States this week, the 1500m specialist turned out over the longer distance, partly to break up his heavy training load and partly to test the waters for a possible double at the London Olympics later this year.

On both counts, he deemed the exercise a success, powering away from American training partner Will Leer in 13m 54.29s. While the time was still 27 seconds slower than both his personal best and the Olympic qualifying standard, Willis was obviously in great early-season fitness.

"The reason I'm able to talk about this is because my training has gone so well," he said. "You've got to do 140km a week to give the 5km a good crack and I've been able to do that over the last three weeks in New Zealand.

"I'm just thankful to be standing here healthy and with a huge, huge base for my campaign."

Willis has only run a handful of 5000m races during his career and recorded his fastest time (13m 27.54s) at the 2005 US collegiate championships. He's keen to double up at London and has already targeted a couple more opportunities to qualify over the coming months.

"But if my training is not going 100% or I've got the slightest pain in my shins, we won't worry about it. The 1500m is what matters and I'm not going to take any unnecessary risks.

"It would be nice, though. It's after the 1500m and you're at the Olympics, you may as well do every race you can.

"I did say I'd do the 800m at Beijing, but after I won the medal, the last thing you feel like doing is getting up early and doing another race. If I won a medal in the 1500, I doubt you'd see me on the 5000 start line."

Willis and Leer broke away with Kenyan Edwin Kaitany and triathlete Martin van Barneveld early, but dropped their rivals midway through the journey. Leer began to drift with three laps remaining, leaving Willis to cruise home a popular winner.

In the scramble for minor medals, van Barneveld was passed late by fellow mutisporter Ryan Sissons and track exponent Stephen Lett.

Meanwhie teenage shot sensation Jacko Gill fell short of national and world junior records.

Highlighting a very consistent series of throws, his 22.30m with the 6kg shot was a solitary centimeter shy of his own national best and down on the global standard of 22.73m, held by reigning senior world champion David Stohl of Germany.

Whenever Gill (17) performs, there's an expectation he'll threaten some kind of record and that hope was heightened when he eased a warm-up toss well past the NZ mark.

But the occasion and his heavy training load seemed to get the better of him, and he could not produce the spark when it mattered.
"It was good to get a performance so close to my personal best without freshening up," he said. "It's probably not as far as I hoped, but I'm pretty happy under the circumstances."
Like many of the top athletes at this meeting, Gill is in a heavy block of training right now, lifting weights to build strength towards a European campaign that will include the world junior championships at Barcelona and, hopefully, the London Olympics.
"I've made a couple of changes to my technique and it's good to seem them working well. I'm concentrating on the world junior champs right now and I'm pretty happy with where I am."
The world junior titleholder has a couple more years to remove Stohl's name from the record books.
On the track, Cantabrian Angela Smit showed a clean pair of heels to her opposition in the women's 800m, clocking a useful 2m 04.50s in blustery conditions. Junior Brad Mathas stepped up a grade to claim the senior title in 1m 51.50s, more than two seconds clear of American Will Leer.
And Commonwealth Games bronze medalist Andrea Miller continued her comeback from injury, recording a swift 13.49s over 100m hurdles to defeat defending champion Fiona Morrison.