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Athletics: Julian Matthews and Hamish Carson make NZ Olympic team

New Zealand's Julian Matthews. Photo / Greg Bowker
New Zealand's Julian Matthews. Photo / Greg Bowker

Julian Matthews and Hamish Carson have upheld New Zealand's 1500m tradition.

The pair joined Nick Willis in the Olympic team for Rio, the first time the country has had three athletes qualify in the blue riband discipline.

The announcement brings New Zealand's track and field contingent to 14.

Alana Barber also qualified in the 20km walk and Lucy Oliver (nee van Dalen) secured a 5000m spot.

Matthews and Carson, both 27, have duelled in the 1500m since their youth.

"I've never forgiven Julian for beating me at the New Zealand secondary schools championships when we were 17," Carson quipped.

Fourteen Kiwi men have competed in the Olympic 1500m, delivering three gold (Jack Lovelock, Peter Snell, John Walker), one silver (Nick Willis) and two bronze medals (John Davies and Rod Dixon).

Only two have run the event at multiple Games - two by Lovelock, four by Willis.
Both paid tribute to Willis' influence.

"He's been an inspiration to us coming to these Games since 2004. I decided to come to the track club [at Ann Arbor], based on what he and [coach] Ron Warhurst did together.

His pacemaking ability has allowed us to focus on one race [to qualify]. A lot of guys didn't have that luxury."

"We're privileged to be alongside him," Carson said. "We'll be numbers 15 and 16 [in the 1500m for New Zealand]. Nick's been so open, he welcomed us into his home at Ann Arbor and to Flagstaff at altitude to train. We wouldn't have made it to this point without his help."

"It's been a mutually beneficial experience," Willis added from his Flagstaff rental home where wife Sierra baked a cake to celebrate the achievement of the maiden Olympians.

"Running can be lonely, so this has been the best prep I've had for a Games from an enjoyment standpoint. The solidarity has been unique. The Olympic concept can get routine, but seeing these guys so excited has been a joy. I've fed off their energy.

"My wife gets worried because I'm not pulling away in workouts. She says 'does that mean you're not in shape, Nick?' The times are what I normally do, it's just they're right on my arse."

The likes of Lovelock, Snell and Walker, as past Olympic champions, provided further stimulus.

"I have always been inspired by our 1500m legends," Matthews said. "I've even been to the track where Lovelock won gold, the Olympiastadion in Berlin. Having them succeed helps us to think we can do likewise."

Carson paid tribute to his 93-year-old coach Arch Jelley, believed to be the oldest elite level coach in the sporting world. He also mentors 29 bridge players from his Green Bay retirement village.

"Arch is so experienced in this event, right back to when he coached John Walker to gold in 1976. I've spent 11 years drawing on his knowledge. We catch up every week and he sent me an email of congratulations. Hopefully I've paid him back making the pinnacle event in our sport."

Willis said the selection will have other benefits.

"We'll be catching the bus together to the stadium [in Rio] which will remove a lot of the tension. That's something I believe the Kenyans have benefited from in the past."

Matthews ran a personal best 3:36.14 to meet the Olympic 'A' qualifying time and Carson 3:36.25 to make the 'B' mark. The times rank them seventh and ninth on New Zealand's all-time list. Carson qualified for Rio because he was inside the world's top 45 over the distance.

Meanwhile, Barber's mum Shirley inspired her to Games selection.

She was an 800m finalist at the 1974 Christchurch Commonwealth Games and took Alana to her track meets.

The 29-year-old Aucklander set a new New Zealand record of 1:32:58 in Rome this year.
Her partner Quentin Rew added the 20km race walk to his 50km event at Rio. Nikki Hamblin will race the 5000m as well as the 1500m.

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