New Zealand’s 1,500m record holder Nick Willis has had an incredible elite running career that has lasted two decades and is still going strong. Almost as old as Willis’s career itself is his streak of years in which he has run at least one sub-four-minute mile, which he extended to an incredible 19 years with his 3:58.63 run at a meet in Florida on Tuesday night (where he finished in second place). With this result, Willis set the world record for the longest string of consecutive years with a sub-four run, breaking a tie with fellow New Zealander John Walker.
3:58.63 last night in Florida.
1️⃣9️⃣ years of sub-4:00 miles for @nickwillis 👏👏
📸 @johnnepolitan pic.twitter.com/9OUduRUPQ4
— RunnerSpace (but wearing a 😷) (@runnerspace) January 20, 2021
19 straight years
There are athletes all around the world who are running to break the four-minute barrier, many of whom would be satisfied with just a single sub-four result. Willis has done that dozens of times for almost 20 years, and at 37 years old, it doesn’t look like he’s slowing down. For some context and to give Willis’s accomplishment the praise it deserves, let’s consider how long a period of 19 years actually is.
If Willis’s streak of sub-four miles was a human, they would legally be allowed to drink alcohol in Canada. If someone had filmed Willis’s first sub-four run in 2003, they would have had to wait two years to upload it to YouTube, which wasn’t created until 2005. When Willis first broke the four-minute barrier, Finding Nemo was in theatres and the top-selling phone was a Nokia. That same year, Two and a Half Men — you know, that show that’s been off the air for almost six years — released its first episode. We could continue, but you probably get the gist: Willis has been running sub-four-minute miles for a long time.
This isn’t the first time Willis has beaten a record that previously belonged to Walker. In 2005, Willis broke Walker’s 30-year-old national 1,500m record by .02 seconds, running 3:32.38. (Willis has since beaten that record on multiple occasions, and his current PB and national best sits at 3:29.66.) Willis and Walker both represented New Zealand at the Olympics, each winning medals in the 1,500m (Walker won gold in 1978 and Willis won silver in 2008 and bronze in 2016).
They’re two of the greatest runners in their country’s history. In fact, of the top 50 1,500m results in New Zealand history, Walker and Willis ran all but two of them. Willis deserves a lot of praise for continuing his incredible streak with his result on Tuesday night, but Walker should definitely not be forgotten.