WILLIS Nicholas < Back  
Sport Athletics
CGA New Zealand   
Gender Men
Born 25 Apr 1983 in Lower Hutt, NZL
Height1.83 m
Human Interest
Further Personal Information
Family Wife Sierra, sons Lachlan [2013] and Darcy [2018]
Residence Ann Arbor, MI, USA
Occupation Athlete, Manager
Languages English
Higher education Economics - University of Michigan: Ann Arbor, MI, USA
Sport Specific Information
When and where did you begin this sport? He began running at Hutt Valley High School in Lower Hutt, New Zealand.
Name of coach Sierra Willis [personal, wife]
General Interest
Nicknames Nick (iaaf.org, 28 Aug 2016)
Most influential person in career His family. "A lot of athletes spend so much time away from their family and that drains on you, but I never feel like I'm away from home because we're always together. My wife, Sierra, is both a coach and manager for me and with our two kids, we're a family business. Instead of staying at meet hotels we'll often book our own apartment, shop in local grocery stores, see the sights together. Because of that, I don't feel the exhaustion of wanting to stop this." (spikes.worldathletics.org, 04 Feb 2020)
Hero / Idol New Zealand middle-distance runner John Walker. (newshub.co.nz, 13 May 2020)
Injuries In May 2017 he sustained a shin injury and was off the track for a week. (Facebook page, 11 Jun 2017)

In May 2013 he strained a calf in a fall at a Diamond League event in Shanghai, People's Republic of China. (3news.co.nz, 05 Jul 2013)

He was troubled by a hip injury in 2010 for several months. (tvnz.co.nz, 15 Aug 2010)

In March 2010 he underwent knee surgery after doctors discovered a cyst caused by a torn meniscus. (tvnz.co.nz, 15 Aug 2010)

He underwent hip surgery in 2009. (runnersworld.com, 17 Aug 2015)

In December 2006 he suffered a stress fracture to his left leg while training in New Zealand. He returned to training in April 2007. (bayofplentytimes.co.nz, 02 Jan 2007)

In October 2004 he sustained a stress fracture to his femur. (michigandaily.com, 18 Nov 2004)
Sporting philosophy / motto "No matter what, you can't let your results against other people define why you do this sport. The beauty about running is it's a very measurable sport against yourself and that, ultimately, is what will drive you." (spikes.worldathletics.org, 04 Feb 2020)
Awards and honours He was New Zealand's flag bearer during the opening ceremony of the 2012 Olympic Games in London. (stuff.co.nz, 09 Feb 2016)

In 2009 he received the title of Member of the New Zealand Order of Merit [MNZM] for services to athletics. (gg.govt.nz, 24 Mar 2009)
Famous relatives His older brother Steve competed in middle-distance running at university level in the United States of America, and has served as an endurance coach for Athletics New Zealand. (globalathletics.com, 01 Aug 2016; athletics.org.nz, 08 Jun 2016)
Ambitions To compete at the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo. (newshub.co.nz, 13 May 2020)
Other information EYES ON TOKYO
In 2020 he announced that he would begin to compete mostly at amateur level. However, he said his focus remained on the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo. "Don't get me wrong, I've still got big plans for myself on the track and challenging goals for the next few years. I'm also targeting my fifth Olympics. It won't be easy at 38, but in many ways, the extra year makes qualifying for Tokyo an even bigger and more worthwhile task. Though there have been times I wanted just to pull the plug and say, 'I don't need to keep doing this, why am I putting myself through these battles?' I wanted to set a goal, a target, and finish the race I started. Putting Tokyo as the goal and definite finishing line, there was a feeling of satisfaction and completion." (newshub.co.nz, 13 May 2020; Facebook page, 12 May 2020; stuff.co.nz, 25 Mar 2020)

WIFE AND COACH
He is coached by his wife Sierra. He credits the influence of former coach Ron Warhurst, who welcomed Sierra into Willis's coaching team. "My wife is my coach, and it baffled most people. From day one, Ron welcomed another voice into our huddle, and over many coffees and even more donuts, took the time to educate Sierra. In the lead-up to the 2016 Olympic Games, I had the opportunity to run at the Diamond League event in Monaco. It was an opportunity I couldn't say no to. But Sierra could. She advised me to resist the urge to chase times in Monaco in a year where only one thing mattered - the Olympics. She knew the race would be physically and mentally draining for me. We disagreed, and it took time for me to see the merit of her suggestion. But every time I look at my bronze medal [from the 1500m at the 2016 Games], I thank God that I did." (spikes.worldathletics.org, 04 Feb 2020; stuff.co.nz, 11 Jun 2018)

OCCUPATION
In April 2020 he began working as an athlete experience manager at a US running brand. "Starting a new career at Tracksmith will only help me achieve my goals. Not only will I get to broaden my career skill set, but having my income tied to my work, rather than my sport, means I can go back to my roots and compete like I did in my youth - fierce and intense out of love for the sport, with no expectation or pressure, except my own, on the result. For some time now [speaking in 2020], I've been seeking a way to have a broader impact on our sport - beyond just participating as an athlete." (LinkedIn profile, 13 Oct 2020; stuff.co.nz, 13 May 2020; letsrun.com, 13 May 2020; Facebook page, 12 May 2020)

EARLY DAYS
In his early career he was cautious about his training as his older brother had to quit the sport because of a knee injury. "I learned so much of what I know from my older brother. Steve was a sub-four-minute miler, but had to stop running with knee problems at the age of 25. When I was a teenager, my father's anxiety about Steve's injuries carried over to me, which paved a straight and narrow path for my career. Even at 17, I was very, very cautious about managing the overall volume, the types of training and the surfaces I was running on. I've always erred on the side of being healthy and under-trained rather than over-trained, tired or injured." (spikes.worldathletics.org, 04 Feb 2020)

BEIJING MEDAL UPGRADE
His bronze medal in the 1500m at the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing was later upgraded to silver following the disqualification of the original gold medallist, Bahraini athlete Rashid Ramzi, due to an anti-doping rule violation. (scoop.co.nz, 19 Jan 2011; stuff.co.nz, 24 Apr 2019)