International breakthrough for O’Neill

George Elliot Secondary student wins silver in the 3,000 metres at U-20 Pan Ams

Motivated by what she considered a “disappointing” showing early this month at junior nationals, Taryn O’Neill made amends with the most significant performance of her young career.

Competing for Team Canada, the 16-year-old track athlete from Lake Country set a personal best in the 3,000 metres en route to capturing the silver medal last week at the Pan American U20 Championships in Trujillo, Peru.

O’Neill, a soon-to-be Grade 12 student at George Elliott Secondary, posted a time of nine minutes 22.05 seconds, finishing just under six seconds behind American Taylor Werner, and more than a second ahead of Canadian teammate, Sevanne Ghazarian.

“I was really going into it hoping for a podium finish, anywhere in the top three would have been good,” said O’Neill, a member of the Okanagan Athletics Club. “The race started out quite tactical, then really turned into kind of a sprint towards the finish. The other Canadian (Sevanne), we really pushed each other, so that helped a lot. I’m very happy with the result.”

O’Neill’s new personal best also broke the B.C. youth record for the 3,000 metres which had stood for 30 years.

Despite being two to three years younger than the majority of her opponents, O’Neill is the No. 1-ranked athlete in the U20 category in Canada.

But at nationals in early July in Ottawa, O’Neill wasn’t at the top of her game in the 3,000 metres, finishing sixth in 9:43.93, almost a full 10 seconds out of the medals.

She was determined to make amends in Peru.

“I was looking for redemption,” O’Neill said. “I’m not sure if I wasn’t mentally ready but (nationals) didn’t go the way I wanted. But with our training and preparation, we wanted to be peaking for the U20s anyway, so it worked out well.

“It meant quite a lot to me, coming off nationals.”

In part, O’Neill credits her success to the mentorship of her coach and former Olympian Malindi Elmore.

Elmore said persistence, determination and natural ability all played roles in what was a well-deserved result for the 16-year-old runner.

“I’m just so happy for Taryn, she’s one of those kids who has worked really hard over the last couple of years and it’s paid off,” said Elmore, the Kelowna native who competed in the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens. “She’s had ups and downs with injuries, but she’s stayed the course and kept her love of running. It can be hard at the age to maintain that work ethic but over the last year she’s been super consistent and super motivated.

“It’s awesome to see it come together for her.”

O’Neill also competes in the 1,500 meters on the track, and in the fall runs cross country. Last November, she won a bronze medal at the Canadian youth cross country championships in Kingston, Ont. This spring she captured silver medals in the 1,500 and 3,000 at the B.C. high school track and field championships in Langley.

As for the rest of 2017, Taryn will compete next week at the Canada Summer Games in Winnipeg, then later in August at the Legion National Youth Track and Field Championships in Brandon.