‘Heartbroken, chased’: Eddie Osei-Nketia takes final bow as New Zealand’s sprint king

When the sheer unadulterated joy of a final blast across the track, a final expression of world-class 100-meter sprinting finally fades into the ether, Eddie Osei-Nketia feels a vortex of emotions as he steps away from his chosen sport to pursue his American dream.

Yes, New Zealand’s fastest man was thrilled to touch the heights of his favorite sport for the last time and experience the fun of a storybook Brisbane victory last Saturday to sign offalong with sheer satisfaction that he’s blazing his new path – an avenue very much paved with gold – on top of his game.

But then come those less horrid feelings — regret, blame, resentment — when Osei-Nketia says he is “heartbroken” and “haunted” by his all-too-short legacy on the track, his not climbing the Olympic mountain peak and decisions of others that prevented him from fulfilling his own great ambition.

At 21 years old (he will be 22 in May), this is a young man who has already achieved so much in his sport. No New Zealander has ever sprinted faster than this Auckland-born, now Canberra-based athlete, this son of a gun who was literally born to run fast.

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* ‘Absolutely excited’: Zoe Hobbs officially breaks Sydney’s 11 second record

He steps away after taking his father Gus Nketia’s national 100m record last year, which stood for 28 years before the next generation blasted down the runway in Eugene in an astonishing 10.08 seconds and took over from him. He leaves a two-time World Champion, a four-time National Champion, an Oceania Champion…but not an Olympian.

Emotions swirled as Osei-Nketia sat down Stuff to think about an athletic career that may be over before it has even begun. In the middle of the year he goes to the University of Hawaii take an American football scholarship which he hopes will take him to the NFL, and with the Southern athletics season coming to an end, takes precedence in his life.

BRISBANE TRACK CLASSIC

NZ sprinter Eddie Osei-Nketia said an emotional farewell to athletics with a win in Brisbane before leaving for a college football career.

Speedy Eddie retires from sprinting – or will soon, depending on what happens in the next two months – as the best male 100ms runner New Zealand has ever had, but in his mind an athlete who was only surfacing what he is capable of.

“It’s like I haven’t even had my best yet,” says Osei-Nketia Stuff from Canberra. “It’s insane how fast I’m running now, and it’s also heartbreaking. I could have been so much better, but sadly no one will know my true potential. Imagine if I had had more than 10 years of experience, I could have done exceptional things.

“Unless, come 2027-28 (when his scholarship ends), depending on how I go, how I feel… I’m still not being called an Olympian. My childhood dream was to be named an Olympian, so depending on how I go in life, I could come back and try to make an Olympic team.

Never say never.

Missing out on the Tokyo Games (eventually held in 2021) in a controversial omission that cut deep.

“It haunts me to this day, man,” he says. “Luckily I move on to better things. I bet these guys will take much better care of me than the New Zealand Olympics. Maybe bad things turn into good things. Perhaps the rejection of the Olympics and the Commonwealth Games made me realize that the NFL was meant for me, rather than sprinting where I won’t go to show the world what I can do.

Osei-Nketia will follow American sprinter Christian Coleman into the semi-finals at the 2022 World Championships in Oregon.

Andy Lyons/Getty Images

Osei-Nketia will follow American sprinter Christian Coleman into the semi-finals at the 2022 World Championships in Oregon.

Still haunted?

“I could have been an Olympian. Instead I’m not which really sucks. It did play a part in why I decided to go to American football. After Tokyo, the opportunity came into my mind, like, ‘yeah, I’m going to make it happen’.

Osei-Nketia certainly pulled off in style, taking first place in the 100m at the Brisbane Track Classic in a season-best 10.13 seconds – the third fastest he’s ever run, plus a headwind. It was Aussie ace Rohan Browning (second in 10.29sec) his first defeat of the year, while Kiwi rival Tiaan Whelpton took third in 10.34.

“I was so happy”, Osei-Nketia recalls. “It was incredible to ride against the wind for that time. With wind at my back I could have run 9 seconds for the first time. I actually could have been pretty good at the world championships. But now we will never know… what is the saddest part about getting off the track.”

There is some, shall we say, doubt about what’s next for Osei-Nketia. This was told by his New Zealand coach Gary Henley-Smith Stuff “discussions” had taken place with Athletics NZ about possible inclusion for the Budapest worlds. But Osei-Nketia doubted the timing was right. The global event will take place August 19-27, the American university’s academic year and football season both starting in late August. He expects to be on deck well before then to accelerate his training in this new sport.

There is talk of a final 100m race in Japan in May and perhaps a shot at his national record. It’s a country the Kiwi sprinter so longs to visit, but he repeated it Stuff later this week that “I’m going to Hawaii anyway”.

Asked what he is most proud of about his track record, he smiles and says, “People will think my biggest achievement was breaking the record, but it’s more than that. It’s my growth, my maturity, my conviction… I used to need coaching for all races. Now my body knows what it is doing. I can see if it’s going to be a good race.”

Osei-Nketia: 'I could have become an Olympian.  Instead, I'm not, which really sucks.  It played a role in starting to play football.'

Hannah Peters/Getty Images

Osei-Nketia: ‘I could have become an Olympian. Instead, I’m not, which really sucks. It played a role in starting to play football.’

At this point, Ose-Nketia offers a shoutout to the three leading figures in his career: Henley-Smith, strength and conditioning man Angus Ross and, of course, father Gus.

“Angus has always believed in me – I love this man’s passion. When I was in my spare time he was so supportive and also very helpful with the decisions I made recently. Gary brought me to New Zealand, helped me mature and grow, and was like a father figure to me in Wellington.

“And without my father, God knows what I would do. It’s crazy – 28 years after his career ended, I broke his mark. It is probably a father’s dream for his son to become a record holder. It is very beautiful.”

Not so nice was the omission of Osei-Nketia in Tokyo, and even Birmingham last year. NZOC’s selection policy somewhat tied Athletics NZ’s hands, but it was a shame that he and Zoe Hobbs were denied the chance to take their transcendent talents to the ultimate podium.

“There is no belief in sport in New Zealand,” he says, without pointing the finger at any organisation. “It’s shocking. New Zealand sport should have more confidence. It’s been part of our culture for a while and it’s time for a change. In track and field, I fear for our juniors because they might quit or change sports because they feel like no one is behind them.

1 NEWS

Despite stepping down from the job to pursue an NFL dream in the US, Eddie Osei-Nketia could be back in black this year in the 100m at the World Athletics Champs in Budapest.

It is an interesting step into the unknown that Osei-Nketia is now taking. He played rugby at Scots College, but apart from playing ball with his younger brother Gus Jr. he has no American football experience to fall back on. He’s about to play wide receiver, where his speed will be an asset, but there’s still so much to learn.

“I just want to focus on trying to improve myself, get all the skills I can, and maximize it with my speed. Everyone wants to make it to the NFL, but I have to prove to the scouts and America that I’m meant to be there. I don’t assume I deserve to play in the NFL. I will do everything I can to get there.”

So no regrets?

“Ummmm, it’s Hawaii man. Come on, what do we regret?”

Eddie on…

Zoe Hobbs: “She will reach finals at world championships and Olympic Games. It is very exciting for NZ Olympic sports. She’s just that good. It is the biggest breakthrough you can imagine.”

Tian Whelpton: “I love Tiaan. He and I always bring out the best in each other. It makes me happy to pass the baton to him as the new king of sprinting. I think NZ men’s sprinting is in safe hands.”,

american football: “I have a feeling it will be very different from rugby, but a little bit similar because it’s an oval shaped ball.”