Twin distance runners Kate O’Neill ’03 and Laura O’Neill ’03 gave their mother Peggy O’Neill a rare birthday gift in Fayettesville, Ark., March 14. The pair finished second and fifth respectively in the 5,000-meter run at the NCAA Indoor Track and Field Championship meet.
“It was great to have [our mom] there,” Laura O’Neill said. “She said it was a great birthday.”
Running in front of a sold-out crowd, both Yalies set personal records in the event. Laura O’Neill shaved six seconds off her former mark with a time of 15:57.64.
“I wish I had been able to stick with the first four runners for longer, but I ran my best time,” Laura O’Neill said.
Her sister Kate O’Neill ran almost every lap a second faster than her previous best.
“It’s a monumental achievement. In my experience, it’s the first time in the Ivies that a twosome finished in the top five in the same event,” head coach Mark Young ’68 said. “Sitting here [in my office] a week later, I’m still blown away by it.”
It took a meet record to beat Kate O’Neill’s 15:40.88.
“Of course, there’s a ting of disappointment with second, but the overwhelming reaction is ‘Wow, how fast did she run?’” Young said.
Colorado’s Sara Gorton won the event in 15:39.25, cutting half a second off the old meet mark set by Arizona’s Amy Skieresz in 1997.
“It would have been great to win a national title, but I would really rather improve my race time. Last year, 16:10 won the meet, but I am happier with the 15:40 and second place,” Kate O’Neill said.
With her silver finish, Kate O’Neill recorded the best performance by a Bulldog at the NCAAs in over three decades. Famed runner Frank Shortner ’69 won the six-mile event and placed second in the two-mile in 1969. Three years later, at the Munich Olympics, Shortner became the first American in 64 years to win a gold medal in the marathon.
“It is incredibly hard just to qualify for nationals,” Young said. “Out of all the track programs in the nation, only 16-18 athletes can compete in each event, and Kate [O'Neill] and Laura [O'Neill] were ranked second and fourth [respectively] going into it.”
While Sam Burley and Michael Baird represented Penn and Princeton respectively, the Eli twins were the only individual women representing the Ancient Eight at the meet.
As they often do when competing in the same event, the O’Neills traded laps.
“Races at nationals sometimes go out slowly and become tactical, but we wanted to set a fast pace early in the race,” Kate O’Neill said. “Luckily, it worked pretty well for both of us.”
Coach Young agreed.
“We like to call the tactical runner strategy the hang and kick. These runners wait until the final laps to really kick into overdrive,” he said. “Part of what makes the twins so great is that they maintain good speed right off the bat. They’ve had phenomenal success with it.”
The twins racked up 12 points for Yale with their finishes, putting Yale 16th overall in team rankings.
“In track, we get tied up with times and numbers which don’t do justice to the athletes,” Young said. “You had to be at the race that Friday or get a synopsis of it to understand just how competitive and exciting it was.”
In addition, Kate O’Neill ran the anchor leg for the distance medley relay team, which placed 12th. The squad also includes Rebecca Hunter ’04, Rebecca Dickens ’04 and Anika Kreider ’03. Yale last sent a medley relay squad to the NCAA indoor championship in 1987.