O’Neill earns place at second and final Olympic Games
UNSW media graduate and moguls skier Taylah O’Neill has been selected in her second Olympic team, overcoming chronic knee injuries to end an eight year wait since Sochi 2014, and farewell the sport she loves.
Published on the 02 February 2022 by David Gavin
The Beijing Winter Olympics will aptly bookend a career full of inspirational courage after the 27-year-old confirmed in December that she would retire from moguls after the games.
After two previous ACL ruptures in her right knee, O'Neill revealed via social media on Australia Day that in early January she had torn her left Anterior Cruciate Ligament (ACL) at the first World Cup event of the year in Canada, causing her to miss the final few of events before the games.
Despite this, the Ben Lexcen Scholar finished 30th after five events needing a top 30 finish in the World Cup rankings to qualify, and made all the more amazing having just returned to global competition in December, nearly three years since her last appearance on the World Cup circuit.
O’Neill was one of four female skiers chosen in Australia’s freestyle moguls team for Beijing 2022, officially opening on February 4. Four male skiers complete the moguls team including 2018 silver medalist Matt Graham.
In total, 23 women and 21 men - across 10 disciplines - were selected in Australia’s Beijing Winter Olympic team; the third largest on record with an average age of 25
Since her last Olympic appearance as a 19-year-old in Russia, O'Neill has endured two full ruptures of her right ACL – the first coming in 2014 after Sochi and the second in 2019.
After completing the Australian snow season in 2020, pain in her right quad prompted an MRI and the discovery of quite extensive bone bruising in and around the knee. In a major setback to Olympic preparations, O’Neill missed all overseas competition in the past year to December, due to the cartilage damage between her femur and patella.
“I had to have 8 weeks off then pretty much restart the rehab process again,” O’Neill said just before Christmas.
“It was pretty brutal,” she said. “(The specialists) pretty much told me there was no guarantee I could ski again just because there is nothing there protecting it, it will just bruise up again and basically cause problems down the line in my future life.
“We just had to do this right, do this slowly. Slowly introduce impact to try and protect the bone and not bruise it up basically.
“Did that all of last year, which was a pretty slow process and pretty brutal coming off the back of an ACL rehab as well.
“Then got back on snow in our season this year, and everything went to plan and came overseas with the team on November 1st.”
As a result, the management of her knee throughout qualification, ironically involved less training trusting what had got her to this point.
“My coaches on-snow have been super supportive, and luckily for me, I am at a stage of my career where I’m older. I’d done a lot on snow training throughout my career, a lot of the basics.”
O'Neill finished 16th at her first Games in 2014 and is setting her sights on "some personal bests and some good memories" in Beijing to finish her career.
The men's and women's Moguls are scheduled for the opening Saturday and Sunday of the games with qualification rounds commencing on the Thursday prior to the opening ceremony.
O’Neill graduated from UNSW in 2018 with a Bachelor of Media, majoring in Public Relations and Advertising, was named 2014’s UNSW Female Athlete of the Year following her debut Olympics and earned a Sporting Blue in 2017.
Taylah O'Neill in Ruka, Finland, December 2021. Credit - @taylahoneill, Instagram.