Nick Willis' Doha Qualification Saga Ends With A Cruel Twist

If Nick Willis’ experience this season is any indication, life on the bubble of IAAF World Championships qualification can be a maddening whirlwind.

On Saturday, the 36-year-old two-time Olympic medalist from New Zealand tweeted that, after the IAAF first told him he was not qualified for the 1500m in Doha last week, the governing body reversed course and recently granted him an invitation. The problem for Willis is that he was already a week into a planned break after thinking that his season was officially over. With that in mind, the man who has competed at every global championship since 2011 has decided to pass on the untimely offer.

The Kiwi’s status for Worlds has been uncertain for much of the summer as he failed to achieve the 3:36.00 automatic qualifying time. Willis’ best this season was 3:36.99. But while hitting the time is the easiest way to ensure a spot on the starting line, it isn’t the only way. For those who don’t get the standard, the IAAF fills the rest of the 45 athlete field with their descending order list. 

Willis was initially bumped out of the 2019 championships in Doha due to the inclusion of four universality athletes in the 1500m, competitors who were added because their countries had no other participants in Doha. It was a cruel way for Willis to see his season end, as his 42nd spot on the descending order list on the Sep. 6 deadline had him slated to compete otherwise.

On Thursday, before Willis was extended a late invitation to compete, Athletics New Zealand was not shy in sharing their disgust with how the matter was handled by the IAAF. High performance director Scott Goldman told Stuff newspaper in New Zealand that Willis’ travel had already been booked by the time they were informed their star miler had been excluded from the event.

According to Goodman, Athletics New Zealand only found out that four 1500m runners had been granted entry via the universality bid when they contacted IAAF to confirm Willis’ status.

“We had to break the news [to Willis] and in fact the IAAF wouldn’t had even informed us had we not contacted them. We’ve had a number of emails suggesting they need to change their process because we’re not happy,” Goodman told Stuff.

The IAAF announced on Friday that they had extended invitations to Doha to 130 more athletes after the first wave of provisional entries were released on Thursday. The move was in an effort to fill the remaining empty spots in events that were not completely full.

“Having now been able to review the final entries, it is clear that some qualified athletes are currently not able to attend," IAAF CEO Jon Ridgeon said in a release.

“Therefore, as a federation that always tries to put athletes’ interests first, we have the opportunity to open entries for one last short window in some events where we have yet to reach maximum target entry numbers.” 

 The 1500m field for the 2019 IAAF World Championships currently sits at 47 competitors.

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