Athletics: Prendergast - Willis helped me

By Steve Landells

Tim Prendergast is aiming for another Paralympic medal.  Photo / Nicola Topping
Tim Prendergast is aiming for another Paralympic medal. Photo / Nicola Topping

New Zealand's visually impaired middle-distance runner Tim Prendergast believes a training stint alongside Olympic 1500m silver medallist Nick Willis has provided the perfect tonic ahead of the London Paralympic Games.

Prendergast, who won gold in the T13 classification at the 2004 Athens Games, spent three-weeks alongside Willis in Michigan back in May. The training break was arranged by Willis' older brother Stephen, who coaches the London-based Prendergast.

"I am four or five years older than Nick and we both grew up in the Wellington area together," says Prendergast. 'When we were younger I was one of the scalps that he wanted and back then he didn't even know about my visual impairment.

"Nick is a 3:31 1500m runner [20 seconds faster than Prendergast's lifetime best] so we didn't do the same training sessions, although we did warm up and stretch together. Yet I've learned a lot just being around him; the way he prepares, the way he talks and also learning more about his Beijing experience."

Prendergast, 33, started to lose his sight aged eight and now has only five per cent vision - and is set to compete at his fourth Paralympic Games. He snared two silver medals at the 2000 Sydney Paralympics before banking 800m gold at the Athens Games four years later.

However, his two most recent major championship experiences have ended in heartbreak.

At the 2008 Beijing Paralympics he collapsed with heat exhaustion in the final of the 5000m and subsequently failed to medal in the 800m and 1500m. Meanwhile, at the 2011 IPC Championships staged in Christchurch, where he was the New Zealand flag bearer, the Kiwi again failed to climb the podium after an Achilles problem.

He is hopeful of a better showing in London, where he plans to compete in both the 800m and 1500m.

"My goal is to win a medal," he says. "My training at the moment has given me a lot of confidence. I recently ran a 1m 56s (800m in Manchester, England) with my main target the 1500m.

"It is always hard to know how the North Africans are going because finding out results can be patchy. I was stung in Beijing by a Kenyan guy who took more than 20 seconds off the world record in the 5000m, so anything can happen."

Prendergast believes the decision to base himself in London - he lives in Edgware with his wife - for the past five years will pay dividends.

"The race opportunities have been a lot better over here, so that has been a real bonus.

"I also feel having spent so long in London it feels like a home games for me.

- Herald on Sunday

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