Nick Willis ready for Wanamaker Mile


Jill Geer
Director of Communications
USA Track & Field

On Monday afternoon, Olympic 1,500m bronze medalist Nick Willis of New Zealand spoke via phone with the New York Track Writers. Willis will compete January 30 in the Wanamaker Mile at the 102nd Millrose Games, held in New York City's Madison Square Garden. At Millrose, he will attempt to foil Bernard Lagat's attempt to tie Eamonn Coghlan's record of seven Wanamaker wins. A University of Michigan graduate, Willis resides in Ann Arbor.

Below are excerpts from Monday's call.

Q: How do you feel about Millrose coming up?

A: I'm really, really excited to open my season here. My last race was here in New York on 5th Avenue (the 2008 5th Avenue Mile, held September 21, 2008.). Lagat and I had a bit of a tussle in the last 50 meters and I pulled it out. (Willis won in 3:50.5.) I am looking forward to a great mile at Millrose.

Q: How did you find running on the Madison Square Garden track last year?

A: Having a year's experience will help. The major issue I faced last year is the only time they let us on the track was for the stride-out before the race. I actually strained my Achilles tendon on that one stride out. I wondered, 'is this how I am going to start my Olympic year?' I spent 10 minutes massaging it before the race started. After I got rolling I felt really good . I think the main issue is the shortness of the straightaway. It's really hard to pass. You have to make a calculated and swift effort to pass anyone.

Q: What makes Lagat so difficult to run against?

A: It's probably the experience and confidence that he's got to be able to use so many different tactics to win a race. He can come at you from all angles. You need to be prepared to counteract any of those and not be intimidated by the medals he's won.

Q: What will you do to try to win the Wanamaker Mile?

AL There are going to be a few good guys in the race. It's not just going to be Bernard and myself. It will be a matter of getting into a good position early on. I've got a number of different strategies I plan to use. It will depend on how things shape up. I want to be able to have some flexibility, and my training has been going really, really good. My strength and speed are good, now we just need some races.

Q: How important was it for New Zealand that you broke their 36-year Olympic medal drought in the 1500?

A: It was very, very big. New Zealand has such a rich tradition in the 1500m especially. When I was a 17-year-old kid running 4:01 for the mile they hoped I might be the next one. Fortunately (in Beijing) I was able to come through in that last bit and hold onto that bronze medal position at the end. Many, many people have sent me emails and written a number of articles on what it means to the nation. It's somewhat humble to realize the simple feat of running means so much to people on the other side of the world. It's a great, great privilege.

Q: In terms of your training, I hear you are now taking a day off per week.

A: When I was in college I always took a day off. It's something Ron (Warhurst, Michigan coach) liked to instill in his student athletes. I liked to take Tuesday or Wednesday to take office hours and get caught up with schoolwork. As a professional, I think I sometimes got a little sidetracked in my motivations for it (running 7 days a week). If I want to run well for the next eight years, through two more Olympics, having that day off will help me stay mentally and physically fresh. I just take a complete day off from even thinking about running.

Q: What role has Ron Warhurst had in your development?

A: He's been huge. He was the first to open my eyes to what I'm capable of doing. I came over here thinking maybe I could win an NCAA title, but he showed me that with some endurance and cross country training, I could do much bigger things than that. I ended up finishing as an All-American over 10,000m (in cross country) as a freshman, and I never imagined I'd be able to do that. The physical and mental belief has been a major role in that.

A: Have you set any time goals for yourself this year?

A: I would love to break 3:30 for the 1500 at some stage soon, but more importantly is to win races. I'll be doing one or two Golden League meets and the World Championships this year. I would much rather win a race at 3:30.5 than take third at 3:29. The perfect season would be if I win every single race.

Q: From what you saw last year from Ramzi and Kiprop, did you detect anything about them that makes you think they are beatable?

A: The thing about those guys is if you look back at Kiprop's season, sometimes he was 10th or 11th and Ramzi didn't turn up much. Those guys are beatable on any given day. If you're consistently good, week in and week out, then you're more likely than not to beat them. I haven't won many races, so I'm really yearning for that.

Q: You enjoy golf, correct?

A: Did you hear about Steve Scott inventing speed golf? I took an attempt at his record last year. He did it in 29 minutes and shot a 90. I did it in 43 minutes and shot a 79. I was on a 12 handicap in high school.

Tickets for the 2009 Millrose Games are now available at Ticketmaster (call 212-307-7171, visit or at Ticketmaster outlets); at the Madison Square Garden box office or on-line at USATF welcomes you to pay with your Visa.