Willis bronze icing on cake for Kiwis

By David Leggat

Matthew Centrowitz (US, centre), wins the men's 1500m final from Czech Republic's Jakub Holusa (left) and Nick Willis, who finished third, at the world indoor champs in Portland yesterday. Photo / AP
Matthew Centrowitz (US, centre), wins the men's 1500m final from Czech Republic's Jakub Holusa (left) and Nick Willis, who finished third, at the world indoor champs in Portland yesterday. Photo / AP

High performance boss Scott Goodman yesterday described New Zealand's collective performance at the world indoor athletics championships as "perfect".

It had been a satisfying meet with gold and bronze medals for shot putters Tom Walsh and Valerie Adams, before Nick Willis iced the cake with his third in the 1500m final in Portland, Oregon yesterday.

Indeed, 2008 Olympic silver medallist Willis turned for home in front, as he had been for the previous 300m but got run down 20m from the line by American Matt Centrowitz and then pipped just short of the line by Czech Republic runner Jakub Holusa.

Earlier there had been a fifth placing for young pole vaulter Eliza McCartney at her first international meet and a ninth for shot putter Jacko Gill.

"We couldn't have asked for more," Goodman said yesterday of the collective performance particularly for its relevance to the Rio Olympics in August.

"It was Eliza's first big international competition and just how she handled it all (impressed). The other pole vaulters are looking and she's the one they're worried about for Rio.

"Tom was amazing, five throws over 21.40m. It's pretty clear he's in the mix for the medals in Rio.

"Valerie is pain free, relatively happy, if not quite where she would want to be, but she knows it's the first big step back in international competition."

Gill did "okay, but there's still a few things to work on".

Goodman also liked the vibe among the small, but classy group of athletes.

Acknowledging athletics is an individual sport, he believes the team camaraderie does play a part.

"You've still got a team ethos happening, a group feeling. To do well at a meet like this when everyone is together, it does help. Your confidence grows."

McCartney got her unofficial induction into the team by being dunked in a pond by Adams on Sunday night.

Willis' performance enabled the New Zealand group to leave Portland with a smile. It also reinforced he is in strong form looking ahead to Rio.

He clocked 3min 44.37, just .07s behind fast-finishing Holusa, with Centrowitz playing his part on a memorable day for the American team, winning in 3:44.22.

Willis settled at the back of the field, made a brief move about 400m into the race, which he later regretted, but he was keen to run things his way. He went clear with a searing burst with 400m left, led at the bell, and into the final run home. For a few moments it looked as if a first world gold medal would be coming the 30-year-old's way.

But there were no complaints from Willis, who said he was "shattered" at the finish. He had left nothing in the tank, had tried to run a race differently, and came away satisfied he had given himself every chance.

"I haven't pushed myself that hard that early in a race for long time. But it's good to know I left everything on the track," Willis said.

He did rue making that early short burst around the 400m mark, which he put down to impatience as the pace slowed to a dawdle.

"Perhaps if I'd just stayed back another couple of laps and saved all my energy for that last move. But that's the beauty of the mile; you get a second chance."

?High school senior Vashti Cunningham, daughter of former NFL quarterback Randall Cunningham, became the youngest high jump champion at the world championships yesterday. The gold-medal winning clearance of 1.95m is the latest honour in the stunning rise of the 18-year-old Cunningham, who set the American high school record in the event at the US indoor championship last weekend.

Randall Cunningham, who is also his daughter's coach, leapt to his feet when she was pronounced the winner - along with the rest of the crowd at the Portland Convention Centre.

The United States finished the event with a record 23 medals, including 13 golds. Other American gold medallists on the final day of the championship included Marquis Dendy in the long jump. The US also won both the men's and women's 400m relay.

In form

Tom Walsh, men's shot put, gold.

Valerie Adams, women's shot put, bronze.

Nick Willis, men's 1500m, bronze.

Eliza McCartney, women's pole vault, fifth.

Jacko Gill, men's shot put, ninth.

- NZ Herald

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