SEAMUS O’Connor may only be 24 but the halfpipe snowboarder is already a two-time Olympian and the eminence gris of Irish snow sports.
Raised in California, with paternal grandparents from Drogheda and Dublin, he made history in Sochi eight years ago when he wasn’t just Ireland’s first Olympic snowboarder but also, aged 16, the youngest snowboard competitor, finishing 15th in the halfpipe and 17th in slopestyle.
Despite a bad knee injury in 2016 that lost him a full season he got back in time for PyeongChang in 2018 and, after such disrupted preparation, just concentrated on halfpipe where he finished 18th of a field of 30.
He started university in Westminster College in Salt Lake City four months later and has spent the last four years mixing study and snowboarding in nearby Park City studying a double major in psychology and sports management.
He was a snowboarding prodigy who got his first sponsor when he was just 13 and had a lot of pressure to deal with as a teenage athlete. He’s had to keep pace in a young sport that has progressed rapidly.
Halfpipers are now doing 1440s (quadruple spins) and even making an Olympics has got harder, with just 24 halfpipe spots available in Beijing (February 4-10), six less than in 2018.
He may still be just a student of sports psychology but the practical insight and experience he’s already amassed should prove a huge help to his teammates in China, especially those making their Olympic debut.
“My advice to anyone is to try to stay in the moment. The Olympics are overwhelming, eye-opening and non-stop, totally different from anything else you’ll ever experience in sport,” he explains.
“For those few weeks, the entire world is watching you and that matters in how you compete and represent Ireland, in how you conduct yourself at all times.
“You’re no longer doing it for yourself, you’re doing it for your family and the people of your country back at home. So you have a responsibility to them to be the best that you can be, in competition and out of competition. I don’t think there’s any other competition in sport that requires that of you.”