11 Sep 2020

Rival runners team up ahead of Olympics

8:26 pm on 11 September 2020

Rivals on the track, but mates off it, two of New Zealand's best sprinters are working together to try to qualify for next year's Tokyo Olympics.

New Zealand sprinters Eddie Osei-Nketia and Joseph Millar at training.

Eddie Osei-Nketia and Joseph Millar Photo: RNZ / Dom Thomas

National 200 metre record holder Joseph Millar has shifted from Tauranga to Wellington to train alongside national 100 metre champion Eddie Osei-Nketia.

Their form will be tested at one of the first meetings of the season in Hawke's Bay this weekend.

Going through drills on your own on a cold windy day in Wellington isn't much fun, but having a competitive training partner presents the challengers top athletes are after.

"There's a rivalry whatever we do, even in the training grounds, in competition, it's always going to be there, but at the end of the day we're just really good mates," said Osei-Nketia.

Millar says coach Gary Henley-Smith and Osei-Nketia were both keen to have him involved.

"Eddie's very happy to have someone who is going to keep him honest and vice versa. When we turn up for training knowing that if I'm not giving it everything or he's slacking off then the other person is going to get them and neither of us want that, it's a good motivation to get things done properly and find a new level."

2019 wasn't a great year for Millar, a couple of training accidents, a string of injuries, while his mother was diagnosed with cancer.

2020 didn't start well either, missing the nationals because of injury and then having the Olympics postponed, so the 27 year old felt he needed a new start and shifting to Wellington after the first lockdown was a positive move.

Joseph Millar of New Zealand 2017 World Athletics Championships.

Joseph Millar Photo: PHOTOSPORT

"I absolutely felt a bit hard done by last year, but knowing that things are where they need to be and all tracking in the right direction, it's one of those things that the better it goes, the better you feel and therefore the better it goes and so it builds on top of each other."

Osei-Nketia, who is the son of 100 metre record holder Gus Nketia, enjoys having Millar in the lane next to him every day.

"It's great that Joseph came down here because he brings the competitive side out of me, I need the competitive side in training.

"He helps me and I help him so it's really great to have him here," said the 19 year old.

While the partnership is all working well a few months into it, Millar admits Osei-Nketia was initially a bit apprehensive.

"He didn't quite understand why I was here to train with him and why I was helping him out and giving him tips.

"He said to Gary (coach Gary Henley-Smith) a couple of times why is Joseph doing that, if I get faster doesn't that make it harder on him, and Gary had to explain that yes but that is also going to make Joseph run faster to beat you.

"So I think it's been a bit of learning for both of us."

It's that learning and attitude that Henley-Smith is trying to get from his runners.

They'd worked together before, but this more permanent arrangement has certainly helped both of them, said Henley-Smith.

"For certain activities such as doing starts it really has been beneficial for both of them and brings that competitiveness into training which I think Joseph has missed the last couple of years so I think that is part of the reason why he came down here, plus having a change."

Edward Osei-Nketia from Scots College during the NZNSS athletics champs at Newtown Park in Wellington on Saturday the 7th December 2019.

Eddie Osei-Nketia running for Scots College Photo: Photosport

Henley-Smith says it's been just as helpful for the younger Osei-Nketia.

"It's given Eddie an idea of what it's like to be a full-time athlete and Joseph is very strict on himself and he really wants to be at the Olympics next year and I think it's shown Eddie what he needs to be doing and so I think Eddie has learnt a lot over the last seven weeks.

"Joseph is training a lot harder than Eddie is and I think Eddie now appreciates what he needs to do if he wants to get to the next level."

While Millar can focus solely on getting to Tokyo.... Eddie Osei-Nketia still has to finish off his last year at Scots College.

"To be honest I just want to get school done, cause pretty much I'm just over it, no offence it's like just so long and I just want to get this done and dusted."

With Millar and Henley-Smith both also working at Scots College, they may be able to help the teenager out with his school work as well as his athletics work over the next couple of months.

The Olympic qualifying period opens up again at the end of the year with both Osei-Nketia and Millar having to produce a qualifying time or improve their ranking to make sure of a trip to Tokyo.