One year makes big difference to O’Neill

John O’Neill was first out of each event Sunday during the Desert’s Edge Triathlon at Highline Lake.

A lot can happen in a year.

John O’Neill started his career as a triathlete at the 2012 Desert’s Edge Triathlon at Highline Lake State Park.

He finished fourth in the sprint triathlon, but by his standards was weak in the swimming and biking.

Only a couple of months later, the 23-year-old former cross-country runner at Battle Mountain High School and Colorado State University was accepted to an eight-month program at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs.

Sunday, O’Neill returned to the Desert’s Edge Triathlon and won the men’s Olympic-distance triathlon with a time of 1 hour, 59 minutes, 54 seconds, the only finisher in less than two hours.

Despite the cold weather, O’Neill said it was special to return to the same event 364 days later.

“It’s very nearly a year to the day that I came out here,” O’Neill said. “I didn’t really know what to expect because I know a lot of these guys and it’s some tough competition. But I got out of the water in first, got off my bike in first, and crossed the finish line in first. It’s easier mentally when you’re leading the pack.

“That start was cold, though. I came out here and swam (Saturday). I dove right in thinking it was going to be summer water and I didn’t really want to get my wetsuit wet. The cold just blasted me.

“Today, I had the wetsuit on and it was still freezing. I got out of the water, couldn’t feel my feet, my head was aching, and the first part of the biking was a downhill section with wind. But knowing that you’re out front helps you push through that.”

O’Neill’s time at the Olympic Training Center set him up for a variety of conditions. While there, he traveled to compete in triathlons in South America, Europe and the Caribbean. He improved on his swimming and biking through a variety of training regimen, and also improved his general fitness.

“You know, I’m a lot weaker with cycling, and that’s pretty atypical for a runner,” O’Neill said. “I just returned from (Colorado Springs), and most of the people there pick up the bike a lot faster than they do swimming.

“To this day, my bike is still weak, but luckily my swim is strong enough to make up for it.”


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