Nick Willis set his 1500m personal best at Monaco's Stade Louis II last year, while shot putter Tom Walsh is debuting in the principality's Diamond League track and field meet on Saturday morning (NZT).

Willis and Walsh, the country's top male track and field athletes respectively, are building towards next month's world championships in Beijing where, 32 years since their inception, no New Zealand man has earned a medal.

Val Adams has four consecutive golds since 2007 and a bronze from 2005 in the shot put and Beatrice Faumuina has a discus gold in 1997.

Willis turned 32 on Anzac Day but has excelled over the last 13 months, securing personal bests in the mile (indoors and outdoors), 3000m and 5000m. He has broken his own New Zealand record for the 1500m three times at Monaco (2014 saw him lower it to 3m 29.91s). He stays away from the athlete hotel by taking an apartment with Team Willis, including wife Sierra and two-year-old son Lachlan, less than a finishing straight sprint on the French side of the Monaco border.


He warms up on a jetty leading to a phalanx of multi-million dollar launches, before strolling up the street into the stadium. As he rationalises it: "The All Blacks wouldn't prepare in the same locker room as their opposition". His record at the venue verifies the method.

"I've enjoyed a long bout of health without injuries, which has allowed me to put in an Arthur Lydiard-type mileage base," Willis says. "A couple of days ago I ran my best 800m time trial of 1m 46.98s which gives me confidence for tonight's race but, more importantly, the world championships. I want to get it to 1m 44s to have a chance in the last lap of the 1500m final."

Willis has raced in Europe since 2001 but his body can still foot it with youth.
"I'm surprised to be feeling so energetic in my legs, which indicates I might be able to keep handling the rigours of training.

"I think the statistics around age are skewed by an amateur era when people did sport until it was time to get a real job. Professionalism means people can dedicate themselves longer."

Willis has no retirement plans. Instead he wants to continue the dual parenting-work model he and Sierra have developed successfully with Lachlan.

"My lifestyle as a professional runner requires up to six months a year living out of a suitcase. We asked ourselves: 'Do we want to be living separately for that time or do it together?' I'm not part of any team. It can be a lonely existence on the circuit, as I discovered two years prior to getting married. So we decided to form Team Willis for more enjoyment long term. Otherwise I would have ended up exhausted and choosing a different focus.

"My training takes three hours, maximum, a day. I'll train during Lachlan's nap or, if I need a nap, I'll do it during the same period.

"Sierra is at all my workouts which makes her part of the coaching-management team, and we bounce ideas off each other all the time."


Lachlan also contributes.

"When he copies my wife and yells 'arms, Daddy, arms' [in reference to working them like pistons] on a hill workout in the sun in some foreign land, it makes you realise what a special treat this is."

Tom Walsh. Photo / Greg Bowker
Tom Walsh. Photo / Greg Bowker

In contrast, Walsh, in his first full season as a professional, is embracing the camaraderie afforded by his shot putting brothers-in-big-throwing-arms.

This season he has trained with the American trio of former world champion Reese Hoffa, double world indoor champion Ryan Whiting and up-and-comer Jordan Clarke.

"We're all quite good mates, or I like to think we are, but it doesn't matter how well you are getting on and if you're rooming together, you still want to win.

"There's a bit of trash-talking. Someone might say 'see how good I'm warming up this morning?' and I might say 'gee, my standing throw's about 16m at the moment - which is good for me - so watch out boys, it's coming'.

They've also had their share of heavier moments, so to speak.

"A few of us entered a 600kg [maximum] lift yesterday and there appeared to be plenty of room, but the lift disagreed."

It was a case of 'last in, first off' as the carriage started to creak.

At his German base of Mannheim, Walsh also had to fit the trio into his Peugeot 208. It almost resulted in a 'High Tower Police Academy' re-enactment of ripping out a seat as their physiques bulged against the windows.

"I think we were all touching shoulders. It was slow off the mark."

Walsh has not struggled for acceleration with his throwing arm, consistently delivering in excess of 20.80m this season (20.81m for fourth at Eugene, 21.16m for third at New York and 20.86m for fifth at Lausanne).

He says the fourth and fifth placings came after some heavy lifting modules, but wants to throw around 21m tomorrow. His aim is to reach a personal best of around 21.50m at the world championships. His current mark, 21.37m, was set in March at Melbourne.