Nick Willis, one of the veterans of the international track and field scene, created his own slice of Olympic history today.
Willis, 33, snatched a bronze medal in the men’s 1500m. He thus becomes the first New Zealander to win two medals in that blue riband Olympic event (he took the silver in Beijing in 2008).
It was the slowest-run Olympic final since 1932. Jack Lovelock, the New Zealander who won so brilliantly in Berlin in 1936, would have finished about 16 metres ahead of the winner today.
But if the race started at a schoolboy pace – 2min 17s for 800m – it ended with a blazing last-lap sprint.
Willis ran wide for the first half of the race, attempting to keep himself out of trouble. Then he got boxed in on the third lap and it seemed as if his medal chances might have disappeared.
However, gaps opened up down the home straight and Willis still had the strength and speed to power home for a medal. He got to third, and then just held on against a fast-finishing Ayanleh Souleiman of Dijibuti. Willis was timed at 3min 50.24s. Souleiman was just behind in 3min 50.29s.
The race was won by American Matthew Centrowitz in 3min 50.00s from Algerian Taoufik Makhloufi.
To give some idea of how slow the pace was, six runners in the field have beaten 3min 30s for 1500m, but the final was a tactical race that rewarded fast finishers, and Willis cashed in, just as he did in Beijing eight years ago.
"It really doesn't feel like the same amount of crazy joy that I had eight years ago," a composed Willis said immediately afterwards. "It's more just a satisfying, 'Yeah, I proved to myself I still had it in me'.
"You're never quite sure when you start getting greys in your hair, but I guess I still do."Rio 2016 Olympic Summer Games Nicholas Willis Athletics