John O’Neill wins tough triathlon in Mexico
VAIL — Eagle County native John O’Neill notched his first major win as a professional triathlete on Saturday at the ITU Camtri Cup in Ixtapa, Mexico. Competing in 100-degree weather with high humidity, O’Neill — who is recovering from a ruptured eardrum after getting kicked in the head during the swim portion of a race earlier this year — battled it out in what he called “a war of attrition” against his competitors, a pack of 40 elite athletes from Mexico, New Zealand, Panama, USA, Canada and Chile.
“The run was a suffer fest from the first step,” O’Neill wrote in a text message from Ixtapa on Saturday. “I worked my way to the front over the first 2.5K and whittled the race down to myself and four Mexicans. We must have traded the lead more than 20 times over the course of the run. One by one they started to drop.”
O’Neill has been on the podium at the Continental Cup level twice before — in La Paz, Mexico, and in Zhenjiang, China, both last season. Those performances earned him some favor with USA Triathlon, which secured him some World Cup starts in China and Mexico. O’Neill came up short, though, with a disappointing finish in China and failing to finish in Mexico.
“I am sort of in the proving grounds for the time being, trying restore their confidence in investing in me for World Cup starts again,” O’Neill said. “Hopefully I’m on my way.”
Two weeks ago, O’Neill finished 10th in the Pan American Championship in Monterrey, Mexico, another impressive result after having to take three weeks away from the water to let hit eardrum heal. In between that and Saturday’s race, he came back home and set a new course record at the annual Boneyard Boogie 11K race in Eagle.
His coach, Greg Mueller of Innovative Endurance, and O’Neill called their approach to fitness this season “The Plan.”
“It’s been a long road since I got hurt in Florida, but we stuck to The Plan and are finally reaping the rewards with Monterrey and now this,” O’Neill said.
WHERE TO NEXT?
Where to go next is a looming question. O’Neill may have a shot at the same World Cup he failed to finish in last season, and this time he’s feeling more confident.
“The course is one of the most demanding there is in triathlon, but I feel up to it by now,” he said. “I’m fitter then ever before, so stepping up to the World Cup level makes sense. But in the lead up to the Olympics in Rio, World Cup starts are hard to come by as in each race there are precious Olympic qualification points.”
VAIL ELITE ATHLETES
O’Neill, an on-road triathlon specialist, tries to train with local off-road triathlon national champion Josiah Middaugh whenever possible. Living in the Vail Valley, he also runs into other elite athletes on a regular basis.
“I saw Mikaela Shiffrin working out at The Westin the day before I left for Mexico,” O’Neill said. “It’s a big motivation and inspiration for me to see people from our town who have become or are becoming the best in the world.”
It’s just one of the many reasons O’Neill, a Vail Valley native, chooses to remain here and make it his home. A daily dose of parental support doesn’t hurt, either.
“Living at home with my parents, who support me so much, sleeping on friends couches, living out of my car for parts of the year for training camps, I have so much support in Eagle County,” O’Neill said. Going out and winning is a major way to pay back everyone in Vail that has believed this day was coming.”