Olympics: Willis in final with plenty left to burn

By Dylan Cleaver

Nick Willis (centre) says he's very happy to have secured his spot in the men's 1500m final. Photo / Brett Phibbs
Nick Willis (centre) says he's very happy to have secured his spot in the men's 1500m final. Photo / Brett Phibbs

There are several things that stand in the way of Nick Willis securing a second medal in an Olympic Games 1500m final - 11 of them to be precise.

What is not in doubt is that Willis has the pedigree and confidence to finish in the top three in tomorrow's final.

"There'll be a couple of surprises," said Steve Willis, older brother and confidante to the Beijing silver medallist, "but overall we're feeling pretty good about Nick's chances for a medal".

Willis came through yesterday's semifinal unscathed and with his confidence high, after cruising home in third with a time of 3m 34.7s.

The top five in each semifinal, plus the two fastest losers, progress to the final.

"With 150m to go he was feeling pretty good and could afford to have a couple of glances around," said Steve Willis.

"Nick didn't waste too much energy and he's pretty happy with that."

Because the second semifinal was so much quicker than the first, Willis did not have to spend time and energy worrying about position. As long as he crossed the line in the top seven, he was through.

He even had time to glance at the trackside clock coming down the home straight to ensure he was in.

"It's not easy running 3m 34s. Semifinals, it's hard ... but I'm through safely and very happy."

With that Willis declared he had to clear the lactic acid from his legs and he was off, so it was left to Steve to relay the feeling within Camp Willis.

"This is his sixth major championship, so he has learnt how to use the heats and semifinals to build up his strength.

"Ultimately the Olympic final is going to come down to who's the strongest athlete over three rounds.

"The strongest runners will have the speed. We're quietly confident he will have that speed come the final."

The Michigan-based runner looks in superb shape.

A medal is no certainty, it might not even be a probability given the class of the field, but Willis is doing everything right as he looks to add to the silver he won four years ago.

The first semifinal was won by impressive Algerian Taoufik Makhloufi in a sluggish 3m 42.24s, but the big danger in the field will be defending champion Asbel Kiprop (below).

Like Willis, the Kenyan has showed just enough to demonstrate he is strong, without ever trying to force the pace.

He will also have the advantage of having two teammates in the final after Nixon Chepseba was controversially reinstated for the semifinals after stumbling during the heat Willis won on Saturday.

It was a fine balance between working as a team and looking out for oneself in an Olympic final. There was no way you could assume that having three in the field would allow you to dictate the tone and pace of the race.

"In the Olympic Games final you never under-estimate any athlete," Kiprop said.

"Everybody is great and everybody is willing to do their country proud by being Olympic champions of London".

Willis might need a lot of things to go his way to challenge the likes of Kiprop and Makhloufi, but he'd also argue rather convincingly that they will need some things to go their way to beat him, too.

- NZ Herald

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