Two promising teenagers broke from the blocks and into the Australian athletics spotlight at the national track and field titles at the weekend.
- Sasha Zhoya and Edward Osei-Nketia are top young Australian athletes
- Sprinter, hurdler and pole vaulter Zhoya was born in Perth but has a French mother, while 100m runner Osei-Nketia was born in Auckland
- Both teenagers are solid prospects to qualify for the 2024 Olympics, but it may not be for Australia
But Sasha Zhoya and Edward Osei-Nketia may never don the green and gold at the Olympic Games.
Zhoya, 16, and Osei-Nketia, 17, turned heads with stunning performances in Sydney, but Athletics Australia’s new head of performance and coaching Christian Malcolm said they were only a “50-50 chance” of suiting up for Australia down the track.
“If I was to say what the chances are, it’s 50/50,” he said.
“We don’t know, but we’re going to do our best to try and keep them here.
“I think first and foremost, they’re youngsters and we’ve just got to try and get the right support in and around them.”
Zhoya broke the 110m hurdles world record for 16-year-olds in a sensational sprint that had insiders in awe at the Sydney track.
He also won the under-18 pole vault with another junior world record result.
Despite growing up in Perth, Zhoya’s mother is French and he is being courted by the French athletics federation ahead of the 2024 Paris Olympics.
“I’m very happy with the results I got, that’s what I was chasing,” he said.
“I’m not too sure what I’m going to do. I want to leave that decision until the future, and I’ll make that choice then.”
But Zhoya will need to make a call by the end of the year ahead of the under-20 world championships in Kenya in 2020.
Osei-Nketia could break 10-second barrier
Edward Osei-Nketia (right) is a top junior sprinter, but he is also in demand from New Zealand rugby union. (AAP: Steve Christo)
Athletics Australia tweet: Eddie Nketia wins the Men’s Open 100m (10.22, -0.2) at the Australian Track and Field Championships! Congratulations Eddie – you are the Australian Champion. @sydolympicpark #ThisIsAthletics
Zhoya was not the only sensation to turn heads in Sydney.
At just 17, Osei-Nketia won the 100-metre men’s event, representing the ACT.
It is a rare feat and the Kiwi-born star is considered a realistic chance of breaking the 10-second barrier in the future.
But the athletically gifted teenager is also talented on the rugby field and is finishing his secondary school in Wellington after moving there from Canberra last year.
“He’s obviously a bit torn. There are people weighing in, and he’s talented on the track and on the rugby field,” Athletics ACT’s James Kaan said.
“He’ll probably get to a point where he could possibly run sub-10-seconds — that’s something that we all would love to see him do.”
Osei-Nketia will need to decide who he will represent on the track before the Oceania Championships in June.
Battle on two fronts
Sasha Zhoya’s exploits in track and field — and his decision on who to represent — are attracting media attention. (ABC News: Evan Morgan Grahame )
Athletics Australia faces a difficult task attracting both Zhoya and Osei-Nketia to the green and gold.
But Malcolm, a British Olympic sprinter, said the governing body would do all it could to keep the stars on Australian soil.
“You just get this feeling about these two young guys that they could actually go on and do some real damage in the senior ranks,” he said.
“It’s about getting the right environment around them, and the right resources, the right coaching, but also the people that can keep them firmly on the ground.”
He acknowledged the financial rewards might be more significant for athletes in the short term, but said the incentive of competing in the Olympics would be significant.
“We are going to do our utmost to keep them, and we can offer the Olympic Games … there’s no bigger sporting event than the Olympic Games.
“You’ve got to be able to talk to the families, they’re two young kids, we’ve had conversations and we’re going to see what happens. Watch this space.”