Nick Willis knows he has a chance with one lap, or 200 metres, left at the Wanamaker Mile at the Millrose Olympics in New York City on Saturday afternoon. He finds that his split time is well within his target range, if only he could find that gear for his shot. But that device, the familiar thing that won him two Olympic medals in the men’s 1,500 m during his decorated career?
“It’s not really there,” Willis said. “I felt like I wasn’t tied, but I wasn’t up to speed either, so I knew it was going to be close.”
A five-time track and field runner for New Zealand and the oldest athlete in the field, Willis, 38, was caught on the back of Hobbs Kessler, his 18-year-old training partner, before they dashed across the finish line. . As Willis folded his hands on his knees, the public address broadcaster at the Athletics Center and Estate in Upper Manhattan soon broadcast his run time – 3 minutes 59.71 seconds – ushering in one of the celebrations. More notable concept for the ninth place finish in the history of the Millrose Games.
Cheers from the crowd. Hugs from his fellow athletes. And a winning lap to celebrate breaking four minutes in a mile for the 20th year in a row, extending his own record.
Geordie Beamish, who won the men’s 3,000 meters on Saturday, said: “It’s outrageous. “A sub-four is pretty good. Twenty years in a row? It’s something else. ”
In the sport that tends to celebrate the next great thing, prodigies have popped up in the arena. But January was quite a month for different vintage style runners. A few weeks ago, Sara Hall, 38, set the American record in the women’s half marathon, while Keira D’Amato, 37, broke the longstanding American record in the women’s marathon, both in Houston.
“Two mothers in their late 30s just changed their history books on the same day,” D’Amato said after the run.
Like Hall and D’Amato, Willis is not immune to failure and trauma. Among other procedures, he was hip surgery 2009 and knee surgery 2010. He recently told GQ . magazine that he has also had “five or six stress fractures” since his streak began, defeats that have kept him out for months. But he still finds the determination to go at least four miles in each of those years – and 63 of them overall, according to Citius Mag, a website about athletics.
On Saturday, Willis thought back to the first time he made a big international splash – a 1,500m gold medal at the 2006 Commonwealth Games. He was 22 years old then and he liked the idea. thought he could help inspire a new generation of young athletes in New Zealand. That’s what motivated him for years.
But at some point in his journey to becoming a professional athlete, his fanbase changed. Kiwi kids stopped idolizing him, he said, as he slowly turned into a poster boy for weekend warriors. He started hearing from a lot of former athletes.
Willis said, “Life has its set of obstacles and they get out of the box, and they say, ‘Dude, you’re doing this to represent us, and that’s what motivated me to buy a pair of shoes. and get out there again. ‘ So it went all the way in a circle. “
Here’s an obvious but necessary comment: Breaking four minutes to go a mile is an incredibly difficult thing to do. No human in history achieved the feat until May 6, 1954, when Roger Bannister, a British medical student, ran the distance in 3: 59.4 on a railway track in Oxford, England. The under-four-mile track has retained its charm over the decades, a sort of world-class fitness demarcation line for men’s middle-distance runners.
It certainly couldn’t be easier for Willis, whose race on Saturday was the second time he’s crossed the under four-mile distance since the start of the year. Go with some teammates and a documentary film crew, he raced the Armory track just after midnight on New Year’s Day in hopes of getting through it soon, before fate, age or injury could intervene. But in an empty building, he finished at 4:00.22.
On Saturday, Willis was back and he said he was happy – at least for most of the afternoon. He enjoyed his warm-up with Kessler. He loved hearing his name during the rollout and jogging the track between two rows of oversized fireworks. He loves to approach the starting line. And he even enjoyed running the first few laps. And after that? “It’s not fun,” he said.
The mile is a test of speed and endurance, and Willis finds himself wondering, as he often does these days: Why am I still doing this to myself?
“Sometimes that question creeps into your mind,” he said. “It’s not like training, because when you practice, you have periods of rest to readjust and be like, ‘Okay, I can deal with this pain.’
Willis has nothing left to prove. He has a senior professional executive career, a family and a full-time job working for Tracker, an active garment company. However, he kept coming back. He values close friendships while training in Ann Arbor, Mich., with Kessler and Mason Ferlic, an Olympic tower climber, while continuing to work with his longtime coach, Ron. Warhurst.
“It’s been a fun social escape for me, and I like to keep the kids honest whenever I can,” Willis said.
He also enjoys competing, and the achievement, in its own right, has helped him reshape his ambitions. He may not be able to win anymore. For instance, he didn’t lose points when he finished nearly nine seconds behind the winner, Ollie Hoare.
“But there’s a side four that’s still a carrot in the pursuit of a worthy goal,” said Willis, adding: “I’m very proud of that.”
He appeared uncertain about his future, although he has said he will never “retire” from racing. He’s already saved up his weekly mileage, and he plans to do just four or five workouts per week going forward, mostly with his teammates.
As for racing, Willis made no definitive offer. But age has emerged as a worthy competitor in recent years, and Willis is on a fine winning streak.
https://www.nytimes.com/2022/01/30/sports/nick-willis-wanamaker-mile-millrose-games.html Nick Willis extends his 4-minute walk at the Millrose Olympics