Vail local John O’Neill set to retire following August 4 Major League Triathlon race in Avon
John O’Neill, a professional triathlete and Eagle County native, announced this week that the Saturday, August 4 Major League Triathlon race in Nottingham Park will be the last of his career.
Saturday’s event will be the second stop on the Major League Triathlon circuit for 2018; O’Neill is a member of the Florida Sun, one of nine teams competing in the league. O’Neill is also the team manager for the Sun and says he will stay on the competition roster as an alternate, but plans to step aside and have other members of the Sun take the starting spots for the remainder of the Major League Triathlon season.
O’Neill was a state champion runner at Battle Mountain High School before going on to run Division 1 track and cross country for Colorado State University. He enjoyed his first-ever run-swim combination race in Avon while he was still in high school.
It was in those Dunk and Dash races where O’Neill first thought he might have a talent for triathlon. By age 26, O’Neill had competed in World Cups in China and New Zealand and peaked with an eighth-place ranking among U.S. competitors. The Major League Triathlon was formed in 2016 and O’Neill was offered a spot on the Portland Keepers. In 2017, he was again offered a roster spot on the local Colorado Peaks team that finished second in the 2017 series.
O’Neill said retiring has been on his mind since suffering a knee injury in 2016, but Major League Triathlon has kept him committed as the league has brought a new energy to the sport.
“I started in Avon, in the pool at the Westin swimming masters at 6 a.m. and taking stroke tips from Josiah Middaugh,” he said. “That turned into racing around the world, representing our valley and our country in almost 20 international race appearances. Now, competition from around the world is coming to Avon. It’s the perfect way to end things, a dream end for my career.”
While O’Neill has been considering retiring for quite some time, earlier this month in Atlantic City he had a race that made him think twice about it.
The first event of the Major League Triathlon 2018 season took place during a stormy afternoon in New Jersey, where competitors braved 6-foot waves in the Atlantic Ocean. A veteran kayaker, O’Neill said he had never experienced anything like it.
“Imagine being at the top of a class-5 rapid, and just deciding to jump in and swim it,” he said. “Whenever that stuff happens to you kayaking, it’s an accident.”
It was type-2 fun — the kind of fun where you only realize it was a blast after it’s over, and you’re still alive.
“It was insane,” O’Neill said. “Then we got through the swim, and it was like trying to ride a bike on an ice skating rink. The boardwalk was soaking wet.”
After the event, “we’re sitting at the after party talking about how crazy it was,” O’Neill said. “If anything, that made me want to stay in the league, not to win but just to have cool experiences to share later on.”
ALL DAY SATURDAY
Major League Triathlon’s super sprint mixed team relay format was recently named to the Olympics for 2020, making it truly a major league level of competition for Avon and the rest of the series.
The league is now international, with teams from Australia, Canada and Mexico joining in the action. The Avon event doubles as the home venue for the Colorado Peaks, but O’Neill — who left the Peaks to manage the Florida Sun this year – is the only athlete who can truly call the venue home, growing up just minutes from Nottingham Park.
The Saturday, Aug. 4 event will bring a festival atmosphere to the park with a beer garden, food vendors, game zone and expos. Starting in the morning with the annual BEC Tri amateur sprint triathlon at 8 a.m. There will be a Dunk ‘N’ Dash at 10:30 a.m., followed by a few more amateur competitions from 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. The main event is scheduled for 4:30 p.m., and a concert from Austin Plaine will follow starting at 6 p.m.
O’Neill says in addition to taking that running leap off the pier into Nottingham Lake for his final competition, he’s just as excited about celebrating his career with his friends from Eagle County and around the world following the event.
“I can’t think of a better way to hang it up,” he said.
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It’s fitting that Eagle County is proceeding through its reopening phases of COVID-19 in an analogy to ski run difficulties — green to blue to black. Monday marks the transition from the green beginner phase to the blue intermediate phase.