New Zealand hails first track medal for 32 years

(dpa) - New Zealand on Wednesday hailed the feat of Nick Willis, whose bronze in the 1,500 metres was the country's first Olympic track medal in 32 years, as a return to the glory days of the 1960s and '70s when New Zealanders dominated middle-distance running.

"It's stunning," New Zealand's greatest Olympian Peter Snell, who won the 800 metres in 1960 and the 800m and 1,500m gold medals in 1964, told Radio New Zealand. "And it's not just a bronze - it's a bronze in the modern era."

Snell said, "It's been harder for Nick, because we didn't have the Africans and Algerians, Moroccans and Kenyans, who are the runners to beat today, and he managed to do that."

Willis' medal was New Zealand's first on the track since John Walker won the 1500m gold in 1976 in Montreal, following in the footsteps of Snell, who emulated Jack Lovelock's victory in the event in 1936 in Berlin.

Other New Zealand track medalists in New Zealand's halcyon days of middle-distance running were Murray Halberg (5,000m gold, 1960), John Davies (1,500m bronze, 1964), Rod Dixon (1,500m bronze, 1972) and Dick Quax (5,000m silver, 1976).

Snell said that Willis, 25, who is based in the United States, had the potential to improve on his bronze at the next 2012 Summer Games in London.

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