9 Mar 2020

Veteran Nick Willis keeps Tokyo Olympic ambitions on track

6:40 am on 9 March 2020

Double Olympic 1500m medallist Nick Willis provided a thrilling climax to the New Zealand Track & Field Championships by holding off the late-charging Julian Oakley to secure the senior men's 1500m title.

Nick Willis

Nick Willis Photo: PHOTOSPORT

Willis kept his Tokyo Olympic ambitions on track by achieving his twin objectives of securing both the national title and a sub-3:44 time to give his world ranking points a welcome boost, but it was a close battle as the 36-year-old veteran prevailed by just 0.05 from Oakley in a time of 3:42.94.

Southland teenager Colin Kirkpatrick took the field through the first 700m before Willis moved to the front hitting the 800m checkpoint in two minutes flat.

In a dramatic twist Oakley found a second wind and gradually ate into the New Zealand record holder's advantage. In the mad dash for the line Willis held on for a narrow but welcome victory in his pursuit of a fifth successive Olympic appearance.

"I hate leading, I like sitting pretty in the pack and to use my kick at the end, but today I was looking at qualifying for the Olympics and there is a lot of bonus points for running at nationals.

"There was a bit of wind, enough to take me off my rhythm and it stopped me getting into a good flow. Julian almost passed me at the end but the way the race was run hopefully helps both of us [in terms of Olympic qualification]."

Angie Petty avenged her defeat by Katherine Camp in yesterday's 800m final to strike back and regain the senior women's 1500m title in an emotional victory for the Rio 2016 Olympian.

Petty launched her attack with 350m remaining and claimed a comfortable victory in 4:18.14 to land her fifth national 1500m title.

Petty was "gutted" to miss out on the 800m title by a margin of just 0.05 yesterday.

"I'd won seven 800m titles and in the past I've run under two minutes, and I thought maybe I'm getting too old. But I thought I can't give up, I still love the sport. I'm running really good sessions in training, it is just not clicking in races. Today it thankfully clicked a bit more."

Eddie Osei-Nketia added the 200m title to the 100m and 4x100m gold he secured across the first two days of competition with a blistering performance.

The 18-year-old sprint sensation stopped the clock in 20.88 (+2.0m/s) - the third fastest legal 200m performance of his career.

For Osei-Nketia the golden treble was a magnificent achievement, particularly as his father, the New Zealand 100m record-holder Gus Nketia, had never previously struck triple gold at a New Zealand national champs.

"I talked to my dad on the phone and he said, 'I never won a triple' so I thought, what it would be like to get the triple.

For the second successive season Zoe Hobbs completed the senior women's sprint double but her victory in the 200m.

Ieuan van der Peet successfully defended the senior men's 3000m steeplechase title, recording 9:20.38.

TeRina Keenan regained the senior women's discus title with a first round throw of 55.35m to earn gold.

The international competitors prevailed in the senior men's discus as Canada's Jordan Young (59.89m) edged Jordan Roach of the USA (59.41m) to victory.

Benefiting from a favourable tailwind the three medallists in the senior men's long jump all attained PB's as Felix McDonald produced the finest competition of his career to take gold.

The 21-year-old from Otago secured gold with a 7.64m leap (+2.4m/s) although a second round 7.54m - below the allowable limit for PB purposes - will officially be logged as lifetime best.

World Para Athletics T36 200m silver medallist Danielle Aitchison impressed in her preferred half-lap distance coming within 0.05 of her national record time with a 29.69 clocking - albeit with a 2.1m/s tailwind.