This is part of Jeff Benjamin’s continuing series of columns on milers who will do the Wanamaker Mile at the 2020 NYRR Millrose Games. This one is a gem. It is on one of my long time favorites, Nick Willis. The Kiwi miler is a fine athlete, and it is fun to watch him, his wife and kids on the circuit.
Thanks to Jeff Benjamin and our friend, NYRR Millrose meet director Ray Flynn.
2020 Millrose Games Diary: 4 Questions With 2020 NYRR Millrose Games Wanamaker Mile Runner Nick Willis!
By Jeff Benjamin
The history of Mile runners from New Zealand reads like a list of the great legends of the Sport. Names like Jake Lovelock, Peter Snell, John Walker and Rod Dixon all grace the Sport’s history of Champions.
Nick Willis has continued in that long line of Kiwi Greats.
One of the world’s great veteran milers, the Olympic Silver (2008) and Bronze (2016) medalist also sports a Mile best time of 3:49.83, and still hungers for the Wanamaker Mile title, as the Anne Arbor Michigan resident has three runner-up finishes and two third-place finishes in the prestigious event.
1)How Did You Get Involved In The Sport?
“My family was involved with the local children’s track club from before I was born, so as soon as I was old enough to take part on club nights (4) and inter-clubs (5), I jumped right in. We did every discipline from shot-put to high-jump, and discus to Long jump. However we didn’t race over 200 meters until we were 10. All of this was barefoot too.
It wasn’t until I was 14 years old that I got an actual running coach, and started doing twice weekly interval workouts, and I didn’t start doing any jogging/distance runs until I was 16.”
2) When was the first time you saw elite athletes compete live and how did that influence you?
” My brother, Steve, is eight years older than me. He was a national u20 champion in NZ over 800m, and eventually ran a sub four minute mile as an adult. I watched every single one of his races as he went through the age-group and senior ranks. My father was also the announcer at all the track meets in our city, so when the international track series came through town each year I was always down by the track trying to get autographs. Come to think of it, there was an amazing track meet on grass only half a mile from my house each year, and John Walker ran a sub four minute mile there one year. I raced at this meet and then watched the elites in the main program since I was 5 years old.”
3) What was it about the Millrose Games that motivated you to compete there?
“Firstly I loved going to Madison Square Garden, home of the NBA–my favorite sport to watch as a fan. It was awesome being able to race in such a historic and famous venue, normally only reserved for superstars. Then when it moved to the Armory, I was desperate to try and finally get a win (after losing to Lagat twice on the tight turns of the 120m MSG track). But every time I seem to have come up just short. There have been some great battles, and the allure of trying to get my first victory there keeps me coming back every year.”
4) What ideas/encouragement/advice can you suggest to young athletes hoping to one day compete in Millrose at the highest level?
“I’m 36, about to be 37 years old. When you’re in high-school, or even in college, you think the next big race is the most important race of your career, and put way too much pressure on the outcome. If you’re battling injuries, there are temptations to overdo cross training and do whatever it takes to get on the start line. But the truth is, there are plenty of racing opportunities that will come your way. Be patient. Enjoy the journey, and don’t rush back from any injuries. If you have a great race, celebrate. if you have a not so good race, learn from it, and know there are more than enough opportunities to put those lessons to use down the line”.