The two-time Olympian from New Zealand
By James O'Brien
Returning to the B.A.A. Invitational Mile for the first time since 2014, two-time Olympic medalist Nick Willis was destined to earn his third win on the mile circuit in downtown Boston. Champion of both the 2013 and 2014 editions, Willis opted to kick off his season with the B.A.A. Invitational Mile, taking on a field that included top milers Daniel Winn, Cristian Soratos, and Will Leer. The race would not disappoint, with Willis prevailing in 4:13.2.
From the outset, Soratos was the aggressor, albeit in restrained fashion. The opening circuit of the three loop course was brisk but of insufficient tempo to do much damage. Lap two saw much of the same: a marginal increase in tempo, the entire field watching and waiting for the big move to be made. That would come on the final lap.
Along Newbury Street, Willis drew upon his celebrated track speed to surge into the lead. Soratos and Leer responded as best they could, but there was little they could do once Willis saw the finish line on Boylston Street. Charging toward the tape, Willis crossed the line in 4:13.2 to Soratos’ 4:13.5 and Leer’s 4:13.7.
“I didn’t feel as easy as I have when I’ve won this before,” Willis stated. He is the B.A.A. Invitational Mile record holder, having run 4:03.3 in 2013. “The turnover was there, but holding top speed was a bit more difficult.”
After his Rio de Janeiro Olympic Games 1500-meter silver medal, Willis opted to take time off “to give my mind and my body a chance to recover.” He seemed to be in fine form returning in Boston, and capped off his win with a ceremonial victory lap down Boylston Street.
“I was struggling a little bit,” he revealed, “but, I’m not worried about that. The main thing is to get ready for London [where the IAAF World Championships will be held in August]. There’s plenty of time.”
Similar to the elites, the Boys’ High School Mile turned into a race to remember.
Familiar with one another, Newton’s Andrew Mah and Wellesley’s Benjamin Matejka knew it would be a battle from the get go. Bolting to the forefront, Mah held the lead after both the first and second lap, with Matejka ready to pounce a step behind.
Around the final circuit, Matejka found the gear that Mah had tried to defuse, charging to the forefront and to a comfortable 4:28.0 victory. Mah crossed the line second in 4:29.6 with Newton’s Gal Fudim third in 4:37.6.
“I could hear him behind me the whole way,” smiled Mah, ruefully. “I’ve been out-kicked by him before.”
In the Boys’ Middle School 1000-Meters, Brookline’s Niklas Isenberg assumed control with the clear intent of drawing the sting from any aspiring kickers in the field. “I just wanted to get off to a good start,” he said later.
With one lap completed, Isenberg remained at the front of the group, with Boston’s Zachary Mitchell hot on his heels. Along Newbury Street for the last time, though, the hard-charging Mitchell clipped a marker cone and lost momentum. That was all the incentive that Newton’s Jackson Lake, second here last year, needed to move up.
As the trio surged back onto Boylston Street for the final time, Isenberg remained in the pole position and would hold it through the finish in 2:58.1. Lake finished second for the second straight year in 3:00.0, and Mitchell placed third in 3:08.0.