Nick Willis' chances of back-to-back Olympic 1500m medals next year have leapt after setting a personal best and national record yesterday morning at the Diamond League meet in Monaco.

The 2008 Olympic silver medallist ran 3m 31.79s to come fourth (the fifth best time in the world this year) behind winner Silas Kiplagat of Kenya who finished in 3m 30.47s, 2011's best time. Willis' took 0.38s off his previous best set in 2006 in Paris.

The 28-year-old also set the 26th best time in the world this year, running 3m 33.22s in Paris 15 days ago. It bodes well in what has been an injury free build-up to the world championships in Daegu, Korea, starting at the end of next month.

The finish to the race was marred by two French runners - Mehdi Baala, who Willis beat on the line at the Beijing Olympics and Mahiedine Mekhissi-Benabbad - trading blows. Baala finished ninth and Mekhissi-Benabbad 11th. Baala claims he patted his countryman on the head because he looked dejected.

Mekhissi-Benabbad took it badly, resulting in a series of wild swings. Baala chipped in with a head-butt. Strong words were also exchanged in the media zone where Mekhissi-Benabbad appeared to slap Baala. Baala responded by saying "I'm going to break you in two".

It is in marked contrast to the relaxed yet controlled approach Willis has taken to the sport this season. One of his focuses has been switching off from training at any given opportunity to prevent staleness and travel fatigue. It has seen him and wife Sierra travel to Spoleto in central Italy where Willis' sister-in-law Mariah, a PhD student in collaborative piano, is studying over the northern summer.

Willis has been training on dirt trails and has even completed his sessions with natural ice baths in a mountain stream. The warm weather training has also been useful as part of the acclimatisation process for the world championships.

Willis' wife Sierra noted in one her blogs that Piergiorgio - a local running coach, regular New York marathon entrant and fourth generation owner of the town's biggest newsstand - has helped them out.

His assistance has included invites to local dinner parties and access to recommended massage therapists. Elsewhere in Europe, Nikki Hamblin broke the New Zealand women's 1500m record just hours after Willis set his new mark.

Hamblin bettered her own national record by 1.11s in Barcelona, recording a time of 4m 4.82s to finish eighth in an international field. That is over a second inside both the A qualifying mark for the Olympics and the world championships.

At the same meeting Adrian Blincoe beat the 5000m world championships A standard and the Olympic selection standard in a time of 13m 18.27s.

In Lucerne javelin thrower Stuart Farquhar finished third with a throw of 81.34m but remains outside the Olympic and world championship A standard of 82m.