At just 21 years of age, New Zealand’s fastest ever sprinter, Eddie Nketia (Edward Osei-Nketia), has decided to ditch athletics to pursue a career in American Football.
Nketia is the current New Zealand national record holder for the 100-metre sprint, formally held by his father, Gus Nketia for 28 years. Eddie would then beat his fathers time, running a 10.08 at the World Athletics Championships in July of 2022.
The surprise decision to play college football came after what was a frustrating couple of years for Nketia.
Nketia expressed his frustrations, via social media, with the New Zealand Olympic Committee (NZOC) for not selecting him to compete at the 2021 Tokyo Olympic Games. Despite his qualification under the international ranking system, and the 2022 Commonwealth Games in Birmingham, Eddie was not sent to Tokyo, even though he broke the national record earlier that year.
Nketia announced his signing to the University of Hawaii late last year, and up to now it remains unclear why he chose to quit his sprinting career. I spoke to Nketia to uncover his motivations for making the switch to American Football.
Q: Firstly, how did it feel to break not only the New Zealand 100m national record, but also the record previously held by your father for so long?
A: When I heard that I got my dad’s record, I could feel the goosebumps, all the adrenaline going through my body, I was so siked after hearing the time. It is crazy having this as a memory and finally beating the New Zealand record that couldn’t be beaten for over 25 years.
Q: Where were you hoping your sprint career would go after you broke the national record?
A: I actually wanted to go a lot further but after the whole situation with New Zealand Olympics and athletics (NZOC), I feel like they failed me when I needed them the most. To be honest, I feel like I achieved what I could’ve achieved in athletics with the amount of support that I have been getting from New Zealand.
Q: Despite qualifying for the Olympics, you weren’t sent to Tokyo. How did this make you feel? Did they give you much reasoning as to why you weren’t selected?
A: I was 20 at the time and they refused to send me to the Olympics which was heartbreaking.
I don’t think the criteria was the issue. I qualified in the World Athletics standards, and they still didn’t pick me. I’m young, I was only 20 and I needed more international experience to get me ready for Paris and USA, but they decided to be short-minded and be like “nah we want champions now, if he’s not up for it, just leave him.”
Q: More recently, the NZOC didn’t select you to compete at the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham, because you ran your record-breaking race after the selection deadline had passed. Do you believe that you should’ve been able to go and compete, despite not making the selection criteria?
A: Rules are rules but there should probably be exceptions. To get a record and you still don’t get the offer to run for your country at the Commonwealth Games was very disheartening.
The worst part is the guy that came second (in the Commonwealth Games) ran slower than my record-breaking time.
There were 17 athletes, and they were meant to take 18, I feel like it could’ve been an opportunity for me, especially because I’m coming off a record-breaking time and they still said no.
It was even more heartbreaking to see Australia make changes (to their selections) soon before the Commonwealth Games. That’s when I thought, what’s the point of running for New Zealand if they’re not actually going to help you.
Q: Did the fact that you weren’t selected to compete in those 2 major events (Olympics & Commonwealth games) influence your decision to make the switch to American Football?
A: Yes, it was kind of a factor because New Zealand was not giving me the right support, they have been very funky for the past 3 years. I realised if they are going to keep being like this, I had to get out of there.
But also, no, because I have wanted to play American Football since 2018, but I have never had an opportunity to show them what I’ve got.
Before 2019, my plan was to go to the U.S to do track over there and hopefully get into American Football. But since I won nationals, everyone said I should do athletics and see how it goes. Fast forward, athletics has been ‘okay’ at best.
After the Commonwealth Games, I knew that everything was up in the air. As long as it’s not running for New Zealand, it had to be for someone that is actually going to look after me and take care of me. Luckily, that’s when the University of Hawaii came in and offered me a scholarship. In less than a heartbeat, I decided to take the opportunity.
Q: Has the NZOC tried to convince you to stick to sprinting for them?
A: Other than the athletes, nobody, except one person, tried to convince me to give it another thought. All other staff didn’t really say anything, not even a congratulations.
They didn’t even tell me the plans for the season. After they heard the news, they just started not to contact me at all.
Q: What is your relationship with the NZOC like now?
A: After everything I’ve gone through and after everything that they did, I can’t trust them anymore. Even my engagement in training isn’t as full-on anymore.
Q: What about American Football excites you more than what sprinting does?
A: I prefer to be in a team environment because I’m a social guy and I’m extroverted. American Football feels like the sport for me because it is based on speed and power rather than the endurance and stamina that Rugby requires.
Q: What are your long-term goals for American Football?
A: I just want to work hard and train hard and do the best I can. Hopefully I can make the NFL. I will just have to see where it takes me.