The tug-of-war involving the incredible young New Zealand sprinter Eddie Osei-Nketia will be fascinating to watch.

Athletics or rugby? Australia or New Zealand?

He is a true sensation, and winning the Australian 100m title has thrust him into the headlines.

Osei-Nketia, at 17, has improved to such an extent that by next summer, he will be close to breaking the 10s mark for the 100m.


This would make him competitive in any international meet, and a potential Olympic finalist.

I doubt there is a better sprint prospect his age anywhere in the world. What a story.

The journey his father Gus took, the story behind Eddie's rise, is maybe even more remarkable, one of international intrigue, of a teenager so determined to make a new life in a foreign land that he was willing to be effectively exiled.

I remain in touch with Gus to this day, even though the family moved to Canberra eight years ago.

As many people probably know, Gus holds the New Zealand 100m record, the one his son is almost certain to break.

I happened to be the initial point of contact when Gus and another athlete from Ghana, Laud Codjoe, first indicated they wanted to defect from their team after the 1990 Commonwealth Games in Auckland.

Gus had only just turned 19 when he came to Auckland with the Ghana team. Their Mairangi Bay training track was owned by the North Harbour Bays Athletics Club (now the Millennium Institute) where I coached and was vice-president.

The two young men were barely out of school, and faced compulsory military service when they returned home.


Both of Gus' parents were dentists, so I think he was in a fairly good situation in Ghana. But he was also excited by the facilities here and the Kiwi lifestyle.

I can't recall the exact moment they approached me, but I do remember feeling a bit overwhelmed, wondering what to do next in such a situation. I was also excited about athletes of that quality wanting to come here.

I discussed their approach with club president Graeme Avery (now Sir Graeme) who lobbied Murray McCully, the East Coast Bays MP and Minister of Sport.

There was a lot of work involved to win Gus and Laud refugee status, New Zealand residency and fast-tracked citizenship.

This was a serious matter for them.

Demands from the Ghanaian Government for their return were resisted but that was certainly not the end of what bordered on being an international incident at the time.

Gus Nketia set the New Zealand 100m record of 10.11s in the heats at the 1994 Victoria Commonwealth Games in Canada. Photo / Photosport
Gus Nketia set the New Zealand 100m record of 10.11s in the heats at the 1994 Victoria Commonwealth Games in Canada. Photo / Photosport

Gus and Laud realised they would be arrested on returning to Ghana, and it was many years before they could safely go back.

Gus represented New Zealand at the Olympic and Commonwealth Games, plus the world championships.

After setting a New Zealand record, he headed to the 1994 Victoria Commonwealth Games in great shape, ran a fabulous 10.11s in the heats, but suffered a hamstring cramp in his semifinal.

Conscious that New Zealand rarely made 100m finals, he lined up but tailed the field.

There was plenty of drama going on. As New Zealand team manager, I had to deal with a serious investigation involving Ghana. Three of their sprinters went AWOL and we were told Ghana suspected New Zealand had engineered another so-called illegal recruitment, perhaps in order to form a relay squad.

The media, police and Games officials were all over us, and we decided to hide Gus with the Singapore team for a few days, a move facilitated by them having a Kiwi coach in Kerry Hill.

Gus and Laud were quite different characters. Laud was an extrovert, Gus the opposite. He is a lovely man but pretty quiet and private. All the fuss was in danger of overwhelming him, which is why we decided to get him out of the limelight. The athletes from Ghana eventually turned up and we were exonerated.

When I watch Eddie today, I am reminded of the Nketia family coming to dinner, when he was about three, and watching this little kid running round and round the outside of the house.

I told Gus that he would be an 800m runner.

Life here did have its hurdles for Gus. He worked as a cabinet maker and printer, then operated two taxis from Stanmore Bay.

He laughed about the time two young passengers did a runner to avoid the fare, and were shocked to find the driver easily catching up despite their big head start.

Gus found it hard to get a satisfactory income and decided to give Canberra a try. (Laud — who also represented New Zealand — moved to Sydney).

The Kiwi links remain strong, though. Eddie is now on a scholarship at Scots College in Wellington, and last year, Gus asked me to register him with his old club, North Harbour Bays.

Just this week, Gus asked me to re-register Eddie with the club. Gus has told me Eddie loved his life in Auckland, and the New Zealand way of life overall. I certainly hope he represents New Zealand.

But I also know Eddie loves rugby, and even as a long-time athletics person, I am philosophical about that situation.

One of the great things about athletics is that it is a foundation sport which teaches skills which can be used in other sports.

Eddie would be far and away the fastest rugby player in the world. Over 100m, he is already about eight metres faster than the late, great Jonah Lomu.

By the time he is ready for international rugby, he will probably be another three metres quicker.

Hopefully we can thwart Australia's efforts to kidnap Fast Eddie.

And the lure of the silver fern must be great, for a family which feels fond loyalty to the country which offered Gus the chance of a new life all those years ago.

• North Harbour's Dave Norris has been a key figure in New Zealand athletics. As a long and triple jumper, he won Commonwealth Games silver and bronze medals, and competed in the 1960 Rome Olympics. He went on to coach, and his post-career achievements include being a New Zealand team manager, convenor of athletics selector and TV commentator. His administrative achievements are many, including being a prime mover in creating the Millennium Institute.