Tokyo Olympics: Kiwi distance running icon Nick Willis bows out, as plucky 1500m bid falls short

As the finality of his Olympic farewell sunk in, Nick Willis looked every one of his 38 years - and then some.

He had just run his fastest time in four years, but found it insufficient to advance to his fourth Games final to press for his third medal over a remarkable career that established him as New Zealand’s greatest 1500m runner to never win Olympic gold.

And certainly our fastest so far.

If his journey to Tokyo has served no other purpose, it provided the ideal opportunity for Willis to pass his mantle to the next generation.

His tongue-in-cheek advice to those following - "Don’t do this, it’s so exhausting… I feel terrible."

Moments before, he had run a canny semi-final race that saw him handily placed when the pace went on, but simply unable to find the raw speed needed down the home straight. His 3m 35.41s was an honest attempt by a performer who has never let anyone down.

"I obviously didn’t make the final, but I have no regrets about how I ran," he told Sky Sport. "It was a perfect situation for me to qualify as a fastest qualifier, but I was two spots out.

"I gave it everything I had out there, I can hold my head high and be proud of myself."

Like Jack Lovelock, Peter Snell and John Walker before him, many would argue Willis should have that gold medal on his resume, after both runners that finished ahead of him at Beijing 2008 were subsequently banned for doping. He was promoted to silver, but still denied the gold.

While another final would have been a nice way for him to end his competitive career, Tokyo was more about guiding heir apparent Sam Tanner, 20, through his Olympic debut, which ended with elimination in a rough-and-tumble heat on Tuesday.

"It’s not always easy, but having young Sam here with me reminds me of my first Games at Athens [2004]," he said. "There’s been a lot of time for reflection, and I’ve been living my life vicariously through Sam’s youthful enthusiasm and feeding off that as well.

"I’m really tired now."

While this is likely Willis’ last Olympics, he hasn’t quite slammed the door shut, committing to three more years keeping his training partners honest.

"Whether I continue racing, I’ll let my emotions decide, but I’m not committing to racing."

Coming Friday…

After yesterday’s rush of success elevated New Zealand past its previous best Olympic medal haul, the Tokyo Games begin to wind down, with only a handful of Kiwi athletes in action.

Paddler Lisa Carrington tries to guide her K4 team through heats and into Saturday’s final, while golfer Lydia Ko needs a low round to catch the early leaders at Kasumigaseki Country Club.

But 50km race walker Quentin Rew gets the programme off to an early start, when he contests the longest Olympic athletics event before the heat of the day.


Men's 50km road walk - Quentin Rew 8:30am NZ


Women's K4 heats - Lisa Carrington, Caitlin Regal, Teneale Hatton & Alicia Hoskin 12:30pm NZ


Women's sprint qualifying, 1/32 & 1/16 - Ellesse Andrews & Kirstie James 6:30pm NZ

Women's Madison - Rushlee Buchanan & Jessie Hodges 6:30pm NZ


Showjumping team qualifying - Bruce Goodin, Daniel Meech & Uma O'Neill 10pm NZ


Women's individual strokeplay, round 3 - Lydia Ko 10:30am NZ