“It was freezing, the wind was out. There was snot coming out of his nose but it was frozen! He was like someone who had come out of battle and he absolutely had, just sensational.”
Three-time Olympic snowboarder, Seamus O’Connor, has played an integral role in Team Ireland’s Olympic Games, the only Irish athlete to compete in three Winter Olympic Games.
Last year, the power of the ‘T’ in Team Ireland brought him to tears when he witnessed Thomas Westgaard’s heroic performance in the 50km in Beijing, when he finished 14th in a race shortened to just 28km due to the severity of the sub-zero weather.
“I’ll never forget that moment. It really solidified the feeling of what it means to be a team, to have such mutual support for each other.
Six Irish athletes competed in Beijing 2022; with a level of camaraderie and team spirit coming from the Team Ireland camp at an all time high.
“I was thankful for what I did in Beijing, happy with my own performance but, honestly, that performance by Thomas was the highlight of my Games. I couldn’t have been prouder of a teammate and we were all one at that moment.”
The draw of the team aspect is what keeps the 25-year-old at the heart of Irish participation in winter sports. The 2026 Olympic Games are still within reach for the US based athlete, who competes in the Halfpipe Snowboard.
High Performance athletes rarely get an insight into all the behind-the-scenes work that helps them achieve their dreams, especially while they are still competing. O’Connor, with family links to Drogheda, is passionate about building on the experience he has enjoyed as an athlete and to use it to inspire and develop Ireland’s next generation of athletes.
Last summer as part of his final-year studies for a degree in sports psychology and management from his university in Salt Lake City he spent two months in Ireland, and five weeks were interning with Swim Ireland, adapting his learning and experience to a different sport.
He is currently on his final semester (he graduates in May) and still competing on the World Cup circuit. But his brief working sojourn in Abbotstown was revelatory on the granular detail and level of care provided by governing bodies to protect a steady supply of future talent for Team Ireland.
As an Olympian at the tender age of 16, in a event with one of the youngest demographics in global sport, how sports care for young athletes fascinates O’Connor.
“It ties into why I want to go into sports psychology. When you’re young and so passionate about a sport it’s easy to have decisions made for you.
“While that may be beneficial to your progress and development as an athlete, these things can also cause stress and pressure for young athletes who are mentally still developing. It can be hard to cope with. I went through that as a young athlete so safeguarding young athletes really interested me.”
He’s got more hands-on experience in management since as Head of Delegation for the Irish snow team at the FISU World University Winter Games in Lake Placid in January, where Ireland had a record five competitors.
Olympians are rare, three times Olympians are even rarer. Harnessing the knowledge, experience and passion of such athletes and embedding them in that team behind the team has the ability to inspire Ireland’s next generation of Olympians, summer or winter, on a whole other level.