'That really hurts': Kiwi sprinters hit out at 'unfair' Tokyo Olympics snub

Chris Rattue, NZ Herald,
Publish Date
Thu, 15 Jul 2021, 8:28pm
Kiwi sprinters Eddie Osei-Nketia and Zoe Hobbs. (Photos / Photosport)
Kiwi sprinters Eddie Osei-Nketia and Zoe Hobbs. (Photos / Photosport)

'That really hurts': Kiwi sprinters hit out at 'unfair' Tokyo Olympics snub

Chris Rattue, NZ Herald,
Publish Date
Thu, 15 Jul 2021, 8:28pm

New Zealand sprinters have launched attacks on their Olympic non-selection, with one claiming "it sucks and it's unfair".

And a top coach has demanded an overhaul of a system that flies in the face of the standards set by World Athletics.

Rising sprint sensation Eddie Osei-Nketia started the ball rolling, and now Zoe Hobbs – who was also denied a 100m place in Japan – has waded in.

Top sprint coach James Mortimer said the New Zealand Olympic Committee's apparent concentration on image appeared to be behind the demand that only top 16 prospects should go to the Games.

He said the NZOC was happy to use Hobbs in photoshoots to launch the Olympic uniform, but failed to back her where it counted.

Hobbs – who is about to race in Italy - said her grief was magnified "when you've qualified but are denied selection due to NZ standard policy".

"A missed opportunity," she said on social media overnight.

"I wasn't going to say anything but as it continues to weigh heavy every time the Olympics are brought up.

"When you work so hard for this rare moment in time and have sacrificed a lot along our journey it hurts when don't reap the rewards."

Hobbs ran a New Zealand record-equalling 11.32 seconds this year. It was short of the Olympic qualifying 11.15 seconds.

Qualification used to be based on A and B standards, but now uses a combination of performances and rankings.

Hobbs' calibrated world Olympic ranking of around 40 would have easily put her in the field of 56 in Japan, coach Mortimer said.

Hobbs could not be reached for comment, but made her feelings clear on Instagram.

"Not only does a non-selection inhibit the opportunity for experience and exposure to international competition, it also detriments the opportunities that lie thereafter i.e. gaining financial support to sustain the already financially stressed environment many of us are in.

"When I reflect on moments this year where I should have felt the highest of highs, I've instead found myself feeling quite the opposite."

Hobbs was upset that her personal bests and records were constantly compared to "elusive standards required for selection".

She thanked her supporters and still "loves" chasing competitions around Europe.

"We are our biggest critic and not many people will understand the kind of grief this can bring," she said.

"It's moments like this that can only make me a stronger athlete. Still on the bus – we build again for the next."

Opsei-Nketia, 20, who chose to represent New Zealand over Australia, said his ranking was good enough even if he had not met the qualifying time.

"Qualifying to the Games is one thing, but qualifying and your NOC still doesn't send you that really hurts man," said Osei-Nketia, who has returned to Canberra after going to school in Wellington.

"It gives you mixed feelings when other athletes from other countries get to go. It sucks and it's unfair but it is what it is.

"So much time, sweat, tears and blood."

Mortimer, who coaches Hobbs and overlooked 400m hurdler Portia Bing, said a little cluster of "world class" track sprinters and the sport itself were being hurt by a misguided selection policy.

Athletes like Hobbs, Bing and Osei-Nketia were on the cusp of the big time, but it was hard to take the next step and further inspire young sprint hopefuls under the current selection regime. He feared some top prospects might be lost.

The selection system was also open to manipulation under exemption clauses, Mortimer said, and he was adamant it needed an overhaul.

He said the NZOC "don't want people coming last". Yet that didn't take into account the whole picture, such as athletes in longer events who may have qualified, yet would be lapped on the world stage.

In Hobbs' case, sprinters ranked below her would compete in Japan.

"Would Zoe get past the heats – maybe not, but in a weaker heat maybe she would," said Mortimer, who is contracted to Athletics New Zealand.

"Eddie is pretty angry about the whole thing.

"It's not a money situation or a case that they can't afford to send them.

"If world athletics says you are fit to go to the Olympics, then they should let you go."