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Eddie Osei-Nkitia has had a frustrating few years while attempting to represent New Zealand sprinters at the highest level. Photo / Photosport
The coach of New Zealand’s fastest man says his young charge is considering defecting to Australia after watching slower athletes than him win medals at the Commonwealth Games.
Gary Henley-Smith told NZME on Tuesday that
Osei-Nketia has some right to feel aggrieved about his non-selection. His season-best time of 10.08s would have landed him a silver medal in Birmingham in the 100m; while his season best in the 200m would have been good enough for seventh place and more exciting scenes for New Zealand athletics fans in what is a marquee event.
Furthermore, the 2019 100m Oceania Champion was invited by the World Athletics Association to compete in Tokyo as one of the world’s 48 fastest competitors at the time. However, that invitation was not grounds for selection to the New Zealand athletics team and he was subsequently overlooked.
Henley-Smith says that these repeated blows to Osei-Nketia’s chances of competing on the world stage have him seriously considering an Australian move, especially because their selection criteria is much more clear-cut.
“If you get an invite from the World Athletics Association, and they set the standards for entry, if you meet their criteria why can’t you go to the Olympics?,” Henley-Smith told NZME.
“Unfortunately New Zealand has a different criteria, whereas if you were representing Australia you would go … and maybe that’s the best way to go?”
“I think at this point that’s probably what he’s been thinking … he has to wait for three years and then he could go and represent Australia and there’s still probably a strong possibility that he might actually do that.”
Australian sprinter Rohan Browning made headlines in Birmingham by becoming the first Australian man in 12 years to make the 100m final at the Commonwealth Games; his time of 10.20s one that Osei-Nketia has run faster than four times in 2022 alone.
However, Henley-Smith firmly believes his young athlete wants to represent Aotearoa, he just needs to see some flexibility from the powers that be.
“At this point he wants to run for New Zealand and he’s always wanted to run for New Zealand, he was born here and lived here for nine years before he moved to Australia and he feels very loyal to New Zealand; but I don’t know if we’re actually showing that loyalty at all in the way that we set up our standards and criteria for reaching Olympics and Commonwealth Games.
“I think we’ve got a problem … if you’re a high performance [athlete] you have to be in the top 16 to actually go to the Commonwealth Games, but I think the way that they actually do that is probably incorrect because a number of the top athletes do not go to the Commonwealth Games … you think of all the Jamaicans … and Canadian sprinters who weren’t there as well … I don’t think they should be taken into consideration and I think that’s maybe something Athletics NZ can push for because if we don’t do that, it’s not going to allow for younger ones who are coming through at the moment to go to the Commonwealth Games.
“Give the kids an opportunity … we’re actually stopping them from competing and, in actual fact, are we doing the sport any good? I don’t think so.”
The reality for Osei-Nketia is the 100m sprint is one of the most competitive sporting events in the world and with the NZOC only looking to select athletes that can finish inside the top 16 at Olympics and Commonwealth Games, his chances of selection for either remain slim; he has never run fast enough to automatically qualify for an Olympics and his highest world ranking is 35th. Even going by athletes from Commonwealth nations, he still doesn’t crack the top 20 on his current ranking.
However, the selection process doesn’t take into account higher-ranked athletes who choose to not take part, and so in the case of Birmingham, Osei-Nketia would have likely been inside the top 16 on ranked participants.
NZME has contacted Athletics NZ and the NZOC for comment, but had not received a reply at the time of publication.