Athletics: Kiwi middle distance runner sets sights on Olympics

New Zealand's rich history in middle distance running appears to be in safe hands.

Theo Quax claimed the Under-20 1500 metre record last week while Sam Tanner broke Nick Willis's Under-19 1500 metre record in January.

Tanner's about to follow both runners to the USA in a bid to accelerate his career.

He’s one of New Zealand's most promising middle distance runners but he's still a surfer at heart.

"I hated track until I was about 15 or 16 because I was like I'm a beach boy, I love the beach in the summertime why would I be running circles around a track?" Tanner said.

But that mindset has changed with running becoming a lot more enjoyable for the national 1500 metre champion.

That passion has earned him a track and field scholarship to the University of Washington

"I love the buzz it gives you, the natural high so to speak, just when you're running fast," he said.

He certainly got a buzz when he beat his idol and two-time Olympic medalist Nick Willis in the capital classic's 8-hundred metre race in January

"Suddenly I heard these little footsteps coming behind me and what do you know Sam Tanner comes storming in behind me in the last 50," Willis said.

"[I'm] really excited to see Sam continue what will hopefully be the next great middle distance runner from New Zealand."

"He [Willis] is such a good dude, he picked me up on his shoulders," Tanner said.

"I was like man this guy has got so much respect for the younger generation."

The 18 year old's 800 metre personal best time is only 4 seconds off the Olympic qualifying mark, and he's eager to follow in Willis's footsteps.

"I also love the tactics of the 1500 and to be honest the goal is to be an Olympic medalist in the 1500 and if I can do that then bucket list - tick," Tanner said.

He'll need to shave 8 seconds off his 1500 metre time to meet the Olympic standard a feat he's confident he can achieve once he enters the intensive college system in the US.

"I've got a lot more in me, because I'm not training ridiculous amounts like some kids are," Tanner said.

He's confident he's on a path that will take him to middle distance success.