While rugby scouts are umming and aahing about his high-twitch fibre X and Y chromosomes, fans in Hawke's Bay will have a golden opportunity to appreciate the raw athleticism of Eddie Osei-Nketia close up in Hastings next month.
Crowned the secondary schoolboys' sprinting champion this month in Wellington, Osei-Nketia will among the big drawcards at the annual Allan and Sylvia Potts Memorial Classic at the HB Regional Sports Park on Saturday, January 25.
"Eddie's quite keen to see New Zealand because he's been away from here since he was 9 years old so he wants to run all over the place," says coach Gary Henley-Smith of the teenage sensation who is the son of Ghanaian-born New Zealand 100m record holder Gus Nketia, now living in Canberra, Australia.
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Henley-Smith, who is a former New Zealand representative sprinter, says the 18-year-old arrived in the country in January last year, emulating the feat of his father in Christchurch two months later.
It'll just be his second race this season at the classic in trying to book berths at the IAAF junior world championship in Nairobi, Kenya, in July next year before the dream Tokyo Olympics in Japan a few weeks later.
Classic organiser Richard Potts says with all the talk about his All Blacks potential it's pleasing to see Osei-Nketia has a great athletics coach in Henley-Smith.
"His father [Nketia] is coaching Eddie as well so they [Nketia and Henley-Smith] were both excellent sprinters in their own right so it's great to see him [Osei-Nketia] stay with athletics," says Potts, excited with the possibility of seeing Osei-Nketia run in a 4x100m relay at the 21st classic here as well. The senior men's national team, under the tutelage of Henley-Smith, may field a 4x400m relay team as well.
Potts, the son of the late Allan (Athletics Hastings coach) and former Olympian Commonwealth Games medallist Sylvia Potts, was in the same qualifications squad with Nketia in 1994.
"I haven't spoken to Gus for ages but I think he is looking out for his son in making sure he's making all the right moves so, talking to Gary, they've got a right plan in place to ensure he's not over raced and racing only when he is ready to do that," he says, revealing he was discussing other matters pertaining to the classic with Henley-Smith when he asked if Osei-Nketia was coming, too.
Eliza McCartney gives herself a full tick at Potts Classic
Liz Parnov will compete against Eliza McCartney in Hastings
The fast track here had appealed as the first race in the new year for a teenager whose personal best in 100m is 10.19s and 20.76s over 200m.
"It"s great when you approach coaches and they want their athletes to compete here," says Potts, delighted the classic will be come an ideal dress rehearsal for the 2021-22 national championships to be hosted here.
"It's great for Hawke's Bay to have the nationals guaranteed for two years and it's great for those who have not been here before to come here to get their bearings to see how fast the track is at the beginning of the season before running even faster at the end of the season as well."
Henley-Smith says Osei-Nketia tends to lift for the competition around him because they've only been training since the world championship for six weeks.
"He'll be in better sprinting form when he races [in Hastings]," he says after his Australian senior men's crown this year.
Henley-Smith champions the balmy Bay climes as ideal, revealing Osei-Nketia gravitates towards such conditions.
His father won't be here but will meet Osei-Nketia soon after the classic to accompany him to the Jandakot Airport Track Classic on Saturday, February 1.
"Now to qualify for the Olympics there are two different ways of doing it — one by making the qualifying time or, two, by gathering points so it's called the permit meet in Perth," says Henley-Smith, who won't be there as they split the mentoring roles between the two countries.
Osei-Nketia's genetic disposition puts him into the domain of men but his co-coach emphasises it's easy to overlook he's still a teenager, albeit many variables suggesting he's got the makings of a super athlete who can succeed in myriad codes.
"But he's running so fast and he's so big, which is really unusual for a sprinter because he was up to 100kg last winter so to be running at the speed he does on a rugby field would be pretty amazing and quite devastating."
Henley-Smith says his intentions were to play rugby last year but a couple of months later he had quickly come to the realisation that he had shed a few kilos to add impetus from the starting blocks for smarter times.
"Before we knew it he had to go to the Oceanias [in Townsville in July] and then qualified for the world champs so it sort of shut down the idea of playing rugby."
It also wasn't lost on him not too many sprinters have competed at the world champs at his age.
"At the moment everyone is still talking about his potential but he's capable of running under 10 [seconds]," he says, adding sport scientists have lent credence to that provided Osei-Nketia wards off any injury demons.
"One of the risks of rugby is to get injured so that's one of the reasons why he's decided he'll leave rugby for now and come back to it.
"I know New Zealand Rugby are so keen for him to play rugby but also develop his speed to the highest ability he can because, obviously, the faster he can sprint the more devastating he'll be."
Henley-Smith says Osei-Nketia is mindful athletics can be lucrative but, also, one has to be of Usain Bolt quality to command that sort of income.
"He knows that so, I think, that's why he's trying to keep everything going because if he gets faster he'll be worth more money, isn't he?"
The 60-year-old says Osei-Nketia's marketability can embrace the domains of rugby league or grid iron in the United States.
"It's come up now, particularly with sevens, that speed is still important especially with the US who have sprinters in their team and they haven't played much rugby at all."
He, with wife Susanne, consider themselves lucky to have raised children to Osei-Nketia's age as well his role as former boarding director at St Paul's Collegiate in Hamilton.
"I've been dealing with young men for quite some time and in coaching as well," says the athletics and cross-country mentor at Scot's College in Wellington, a school that Oklahoma City Thunder NBA star Steven Adams helped put on the global map.
"He's a very lovable kid, you know, who's very respectful and a caring young man who wants to do the right thing and write a bit of legacy, too"
The Scot's College boarder, who is with his family in Canberra now, has drawn inspiration from All Blacks legend Jonah Lomu's autobiography.
"He thinks he [Lomu] is pretty cool so he's been a little bit of inspiration for him," says the director of boarding and head of careers at the college.
Henley-Smith says it's exciting times in the fast lanes because a cluster of sprinters are putting up their hands to be in the national men's relay equation.
"Sprinting in New Zealand is looking very positive at the moment, which is something that hasn't happened for a while," he says, echoing Potts' sentiments that a relay race is imminent here.
Henley-Smith's footprints preceded those of Osei-Nikitia. In the 1970s, as an Auckland Grammar schoolboy he claimed the national secondary schools sprint crown as well as established junior records along the way.
The 1990 Commonwealth Games representative had won a scholarship to Washington State University. He assumed the mantle of fullback under Sir Graham Henry, who went on to win the Rugby World Cup, at high school as well as the University club.
Coach Jeremy McColl has confirmed Rio Olympic bronze medallist Eliza McCartney will be here as part of the annual 10-day training camp his stable holds in the build up to the classic while based in Waimarama.
"But at this stage he's not going to be competing with Eliza because of her latest injury problems," says Potts of the pole vaulters who will be here from January 16-25 to make the most of the EIT Institute of Sport and Health Facility adjacent to the track and field complex.
"They'll be competing at the new indoor arena there on Thursday, January 23, so there might be a gold coin donation to get in and, obviously, they'll compete at the classic on that Saturday again."
Potts says running the pole vault meeting with the classic two days later is to replicate the ritual of the world championship where they qualify before making the cut to the finals.
"That means they still have to perform well two to three days apart from each other but also, as Jeremy says, the conditions here outside with the prevailing winds from off the coast makes it for excellent pole vaulting."
McCartney exemplified that at the classic last year when she agonisingly came 15cm shy of scaling 5m after returning from a five-month layoff following a season-ending heel injury at Birmingham.
"I think there have been four women in the world who have done that so all the pole vaulters love jumping here," he says of the Aucklander who had eclipsed the classic record of 4.75m with a 4.85m jump.
McCartney, who turned 23 on December 11, disclosed on social media days before her birthday she had a "genetic disorder that causes auto-immune inflammation, particularly affecting tendons". She withdrew from the world champs in September but still remains optimistic about Tokyo.
Reigning world indoor and outdoor shot put champion Tom Walsh will also return to the classic.
Walsh, was here last year at the behest of Sir Graeme Avery who had "dangled carrots" he couldn't turn down.
The 27-year-old Cantabrian had predictably won the classic with a 21.38m throw, eclipsing his own meeting record of 21.14m set in 2017.
Allan, regarded as the godfather of Hawke's Bay/Poverty Bay athletics, lost his battle with bone cancer at 79 in 2014.
He coached a stable of elite athletes, including Sylvia, who had competed at the 1968 Mexico Olympics and two Commonwealth Games (Edinburgh 1970 and Christchurch 1974), before also succumbing to cancer in 1999.
A national selector for two decades until 1994, Allan had mentored elder son Richard as a middle-distance runner to two Commonwealth Games (1990 and 1994).
In keeping with tradition, proceeds from the pole vaulting and classic will be donated to the Cancer Society of Hawke's Bay.