27 Feb 2015

Willis wins feature race in Auckland

1:20 pm on 27 February 2015

The veteran New Zealand middle distance runner Nick Willis defied the bookies odds to clinch a 5000 metres victory over the Robertson twins at the Auckland Track Challenge in Waitakere.

The 2008 Olympic 1500-metres silver medallist, who was quoted as second favourite with the TAB, opened up a small gap from Zane Robertson with 700 metres to go and simple ran away from his rival to stop the clock in 13:22.11, lowering Dick Quax's New Zealand residents' record of 13:24.0.

Nick Willis beats Zane Robertson in Auckland 5000m race in 2015.

Nick Willis beats Zane Robertson in Auckland 5000m race in 2015. Photo: PHOTOSPORT

Zane Robertson finished 3.30 seconds further back - while his brother Jake, who recently tore ligaments in his knee, stopped running with a little over 500 metres to go.

Billed as the biggest New Zealand endurance battle for several generations it was easy to see why the race had attracted some much pre-race hype after Willis had set two national indoor mile records earlier this month and Zane Robertson posted a half-marathon record with a 59:47 race in Japan.

With three laps remaining the three New Zealanders opened up a gap on their rivals from across the Tasman Sea but with a little under two laps to go it was Willis who swept to the front.

At the bell, Willis held a five metre lead from Zane Robertson - with Jake Robertson now out of the race. The New Zealand half-marathon record holder briefly rallied but the 2014 Commonwealth 1500-metre bronze medallist responded and amid a pulsating atmosphere he claimed the sweetest of race wins a little under two seconds shy of his PB for the distance.

31-year-old Willis says he could see the Robertsons were working together and he kicked a lot further out than he wanted, which made it a grind, but it was exciting and he was just thankful he crossed the line first.

Willis says for an event that has been organised in only three months it was just a fantastic turn-out. "I really hope that is becomes an annual event in what it New Zealand."

A disappointed Zane Robertson, who has struggled with a calf problem since setting his New Zealand half marathon record and was racing here for the first time for eight years, says he found the pace quite easy but he hasn't worn spikes since last September and he's only been back training for five days.

Robertson says he doesn't like to make excuses but he wasn't at full fitness.

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