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New Zealand Gets Rare Olympic Track Medal


Nicholas Willis has won a bronze medal in the men's 1500-meter race at the Beijing Olympics. He is one of many athletes who lives in the United States but was born in another country. VOA's Jim Stevenson has more on the middle distance runner from New Zealand.

Not many athletes from New Zealand capture a track medal at the Olympics. But 25-year-old Nicholas Willis has. And, he hopes his success in Beijing resonates in his homeland.

"The spread that this sport has reached worldwide now - Kenya, Bahrain, (Ramzi) formerly of Morocco, you have got a guy from South Africa (Juan van Deventer, 3:34.77) in the race, Great Britain (Andy Baddeley, 3:35.37). To get a bronze medal for me means just as much," Willis said.

Moroccan-born Rashid Ramzi, who runs for Bahrain, won the 1500 meter event on Tuesday (3:32.94). Asbel Kipruto Kiprop of Kenya won the silver (3:33.11). Willis (3:34.16) says his appearance on the podium shows how popular the event has become.

"From the Western world sometimes, sometimes we struggle to compete against the Africans all the time. I feel like I am representing a huge range of track and field fans," he said.

In 2006, Willis became the first Kiwi runner to win the 1500 meter race at the regional Commonwealth Games. He says he feels a lot of responsibility to run well.

"It gives the kids a lot of young kids hope that someone from a town like Lower Hutt of 100,000 people, where track and field is not big," Willis explained. "I came from a high school of 2,000 kids. And, I was one of only two people who ran track. To come from that and now get a chance to be on the medal podium, it means a huge, huge amount."

His brother, Steve Willis, is also an athlete. They are the only brothers in the history of New Zealand to have both run a mile (1.6 kilometers) in under four minutes. Currently, Nicholas Willis is studying economics at the University of Michigan in the United States. He recently married and is living in Ann Arbor, Michigan.

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