Willis keeps Olympic hopes on track

Wellingtonian Nick Willis (right) wins the men’s 1500m from Julian Oakley, of Waikato-Bay of...
Wellingtonian Nick Willis (right) wins the men’s 1500m from Julian Oakley, of Waikato-Bay of Plenty, at the New Zealand athletics championships in Christchurch yesterday. PHOTO: GETTY IMAGES
Double Olympic 1500m medallist Nick Willis provided a thrilling climax to the New Zealand championships in Christchurch yesterday, holding off late-charging Julian Oakley to secure the 1500m title.

Willis kept his Tokyo Olympic ambitions on track by achieving his twin objectives of securing the national title and a sub-3min 44sec time to give his world ranking points a welcome boost, but it was a mighty close battle as the 36-year-old veteran prevailed by just 0.05sec from Oakley in 3min 42.94se.

Willis pushed the accelerator with 200m to go and, entering the home straight, opened up a 7-8m lead, yet in a dramatic twist Oakley found a second wind and gradually ate into the New Zealand record-holder’s advantage.

In the mad dash for the line Willis held on for a narrow but welcome victory in his pursuit of a fifth successive Olympic appearance.

‘‘I hate leading. I like sitting pretty in the pack and to use my kick at the end, but today I was looking at qualifying for the Olympics and there is a lot of bonus points for running at nationals [and running a quick time].

Angie Petty avenged her defeat by Katherine Camp in Saturday’s 800m final to strike back and regain the senior women’s 1500m title in an emotional victory for the Rio 2016 Olympian.

Unlike the 800m final in which Petty took on the pace, she sensibly preferred to shelter from the wind and sat behind both Camp and later Rebekah Greene before launching her attack with 350m remaining.

Powering away from Greene and Kara Macdermid in the final 200m she claimed a comfortable victory in 4min 18.14sec to land her fifth national 1500m title.

Macdermid (Manawatu) finished strongly to claim second in 4min 20.31sec with Greene (Otago) rewarded with bronze in 4min 20.64sec.

Eddie Osei-Nketia added the 200m title to the 100m and 4x100m gold he secured in the first two days of competition with a blistering performance.

The 18-year-old sprint sensation blitzed around the bend to establish a sizeable lead and repelled a late challenge from Auckland team-mate Hamish Gill to stop the clock in 20.88sec, the third-fastest legal 200m performance of his career.

For Osei-Nketia the golden treble was a magnificent achievement, particularly as his father, New Zealand 100m record-holder Gus Nketia, had never previously struck triple gold at a New Zealand national champs.

"I talked to my dad on the phone and he said, ‘I never won a triple’ so I thought, what it would be like to get the triple."

For the second successive season Zoe Hobbs completed the senior women’s sprint double but her victory in the 200m could not have been any closer as she held off the rapidly pursuing Rosie Elliott by just 0.01sec in a candidate for race of the championship.

In the same finishing order as the senior women’s 100m, Georgia Hulls (Hawkes Bay) snatched bronze in 23.53.

Ieuan van der Peet successfully defended the senior men’s 3000m steeplechase title, recording 9min 20.38sec ahead of minor medallists Liam Woolford, of Manawatu, and Sam Petty, of Canterbury

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