Athletics: NZ's Nick Willis surpasses Sir John Walker to set new four-minute mile mark

  • 21/01/2021

Kiwi runner Nick Willis has claimed a unique slice of running history.

The double Olympic medallist has gone under four minutes in the mile for an incredible 19th year in a row to set a new world record, clocking in at 3:58.63 at the Orange Winter Classic meet in Clermont, Florida.

The result sees Willis move past fellow New Zealand legend Sir John Walker, who managed the feat for 18 straight years.

"It was a definite goal of mine," Willis tells Newshub.

"I need some carrots to keep me motivated you know, and especially having Sir John Walker up at the top of that unique list definitely kept me motivated.

"To keep New Zealand at the top of that list is great… and it's exciting that I can still get around the track at that pace."

The 37-year-old completed his first sub four-minute mile back when he was just a 19-year-old teenager.

"I remember calling my father back then and this time he called me right after he race, so it came full circle to a certain degree," he says.

"That was really special as well."

The Lower Hutt native now switches his focus to qualifying for July's Tokyo Olympics, which are still scheduled to proceed, despite a recent COVID-19 surge in Japan.

"I'll be shooting to try and work towards that automatic Olympic qualifying time at the end of February, when there's a good opportunity in Texas. That's what I'm working towards.

The US-based Willis is currently sitting within the points threshold for qualification in the world rankings, meaning he has a couple of different avenues to pursue selection.

But he admits he's now starting to feel the effects of time catching up to him, as he looks to try and add another Olympics medal to his collection alongside his silver in Beijing and bronze in Rio.

"Certainly… I didn't up until I was about 35, I really didn't think it made a difference," Willis insists. 

"If anything it was an advantage, having more experience and wisdom to help you navigate the pitfalls of being athlete

"But the last two years have been significantly harder for me to turn fitness into performance. I feel my training is going well, but you don't quite always have that fine-tuned X-factor performance."