Nicholas Ian Willis (born 25 April 1983) is a New Zealand middle distance runner and the country's only two-time Olympic medalist in the 1500 metres. He won the silver medal at the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, and bronze at the 2016 Olympics in Rio. His other achievements over the same distance include the national and Oceania record (3:29.66), and medals from three consecutive Commonwealth Games (gold in 2006, bronze in 2010 and 2014).
Willis was born in and grew up in Lower Hutt, New Zealand, where he went to Hutt Valley High School before attending University of Michigan in the United States on a full athletic scholarship. His brother, Steve Willis, is also an athlete, and they are the only brothers in the history of New Zealand to have both broken 4:00 minutes for the mile.
For a New Zealand high school student over the mile, Willis became the fastest ever on 20 January 2001, with a time of 4 min 1.33 s.
In 2005, at the Golden League series in Paris, France, Willis broke John Walker's 32-year-old national record for the 1500m. Willis then won a Gold Medal at the 2006 Commonwealth Games, which he completed in 3:38.49 minutes, and two first placings at the New Zealand Track & Field Championships in 2006, with a time of 3:50.77 minutes, and 2008, which he ran in 3:44.46 minutes. His IAAF world ranking was 16 in May 2007.
2008: Olympic silver medallist
Willis won the 1500m silver medal in the 2008 Summer Olympics. He originally placed third but the eventual disqualification of Rashid Ramzi due to a positive drug test saw Willis's bronze medal become a silver one, which he received in 2011. On May 2, 2018, it was announced that, Asbel Kiprop of Kenya, who was declared the champion on Rmazi's disqualification, had tested positive for the banned performance enhancing drug EPO Although this raises the possibility of Kiprop being disqualified and Willis being declared champion it is highly unusual for any drug sanction to cover more than a few years.
In the first 1500m heat Willis placed 2nd in a time of 3:36.01. After running at the back of the field for the first few laps he took the lead on the final lap eventually finishing ahead of Mehdi Baala. Willis ran in the second 1500m semi-final where the pace was so slow that during the race he uncharacteristically told the other competitors to pick up the pace so more of them would have a chance to qualify. With 250m to go Willis was almost boxed in and had to fight his way around Arturo Casado. Willis finished 5th in the semi-final in a time of 3:37.54, making him the 9th fastest qualifier for the 12 man final.
In the final Willis stayed at the back of the pack of runners for most of the race. Working his way through the field, he found himself in 6th place with 200m to go. Along the home straight he passed three runners, holding off Baala on the line claiming the bronze medal in 3:34.16. With the 18 November 2009 disqualification of would-be winner Rashid Ramzi due to a positive drug test, that medal status was upgraded to a silver medal.
In conclusion to his 2008 season, Willis won the Fifth Avenue Mile race in New York City, beating out twice-world champion Bernard Lagat of the United States by 0.1 seconds. Willis was the first New Zealander to win the race since John Walker in 1984.
2010: Surgery and comeback
During 2010, Willis underwent knee surgery. He came fifth in the Fifth Avenue Mile race and although he was the defending champion in the 1500m, his form leading into the 2010 Commonwealth Games was not his best. He managed to win the bronze medal in the event and said afterward that he was looking forward to training injury-free.
Willis didn't receive his 2008 Olympic silver medal until 26 February 2011. The presentation was originally scheduled for an international track meet in Christchurch, but the earthquake on 22 February caused that event to be cancelled. Instead, Willis received his medal at a fundraising track meet organised in response to the earthquake and held at Newtown Park in Wellington. It was presented by International Olympic Committee member and 1976 gold medallist Barry Maister. It was the first Olympic medal ceremony held in New Zealand. At the same meet, Willis ran a sub-four-minute mile.
In July 2012 Willis set the Oceania 1500m record with a run of 3:30.35 at the Monaco Diamond League Herculis meeting. He placed third in the race, and his time was also an improvement on his own New Zealand record.
On 27 July he was officially named the Olympic flag bearer for New Zealand at London 2012.
Willis was the oldest runner to make the final of the 1500m, in which he placed 9th – a result he described as "heart-breaking" and "a bit embarrassing". Algerian Taoufik Makhloufi won in 3:34.08s, with Willis clocking 3:36.94. Reflecting on this result in 2013, Willis conceded that he'd peaked three weeks too early at Monaco, and consequently "ran out of steam".
Over a 66-day period (15 May – 20 July) leading up to the Glasgow Commonwealth Games, Willis ran his best times over four different distances. Two of those runs doubled as new national records.
He began with a time of 13m 20.33s over 5000m on 15 May. On 11 June he became the second New Zealander after Sir John Walker to break 3m 50s over a mile when he finished second at the Bislett Games in Oslo. Six days later, he shaved 0.58s off Walker's 31-year-old record for 3000m at Ostrava in the Czech Republic, clocking 7m 36.91s. Then on 20 July, racing in a Diamond League event in Monaco, he reduced the New Zealand 1500m record to 3m 29.91s.
This 1500m time came on the same track that he set national records on in 2011 and 2012, and made Willis the 27th man to beat the 3m30s barrier. He placed seventh in an uncommonly fast race: the runners who finished fourth through seventh all ran the quickest ever times for their places in the field.
Glasgow Commonwealth Games
Entering the Commonwealth Games 5000m for the first time, and believing that he had "nothing to lose", Willis finished tenth. Amongst the New Zealanders in the field he was third of three, with Zane Robertson taking bronze.
Robertson's twin brother, Jake, was also in the 5000m race but tripped after a collision involving Willis. At the time Jake Robertson said that the incident was "the way things go", but five days later he told reporters that he would "not forget[...]the reason I fell in the 5K, including Nick Willis." Invited to comment, Willis only shrugged off "sensationalist journalism".
Willis also ran the 1500m at those games. He qualified directly for the final, winning the first heat in 3.40.76. In the final Willis overtook South African Johan Cronje with his last three steps to take bronze in 3:39.60. Frustrated at himself, Willis believed he'd timed his race badly and saw his third placing as a "respectable finish" that he had to "salvage" from the race. "It was only my fitness that got me to that medal, not any tactical nous, or brilliance or planning."
In early 2016 Willis won his first World Indoor Championship medal, taking bronze in the 1500m final behind future Olympic champion Matt Centrowitz and Jakub Holuša.
Willis qualified for his third successive 1500m Olympic final, finishing 6th in his heat and third in his semi-final. In the final, the first two laps were run at an extremely slow pace. During the final straight Willis moved into third place about 50 meters from the finish. While he could not close the gap to Makloufi and Centrowitz, he maintained his position across the line to claim the bronze medal. After the race, Willis said that taking the bronze was "incredibly satisfying...it's the personal satisfaction that we corrected all the wrongs from London."
In finishing third, Willis became the oldest man to win an Olympic medal in the 1500 meters, and the 8th man to have won two 1500m Olympic medals.
|1500 m||3:29.66 NR, AR||Monaco||17 July 2015|
|3000 m||7:36.91 NR||Ostrava, Czech Republic||2014|
|5000 m||13:20.33||Los Angeles,CA||2014|
Willis married Sierra Boucher on 30 September 2007. In 2012 they became parents with the birth of a son, Lachlan. They currently reside in Ann Arbor, Michigan. In March 2016 Willis announced on social media that he was a former porn addict.