Tim O’Donnell closed 2019 with a bang, with a runner-up finish at Kona and hopes he might ascend to the top of the podium this year. When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, that goal and normal life were put on hold. But the continued work of the PTO has lit his candle of optimism for the sport.
Slowtwitch: How important has it been for PTO (Professional Triathletes Organization) to create a partnership with the pros?
Tim O’Donnell: Partnership with the professionals is the most valuable asset for the PTO. The decision to payout the $2.5 million ranking bonus was done to support pros in a time of need in an effort to show how the PTO truly values our partnership.
ST: You have made some of your biggest splashes at Ironman Hawaii, a steady march from 8th on up to second place last year. Is there any tension working for PTO and its partners Challenge and maintaining your strong ties to Ironman?
Tim: There have not been any issues caused from my relationships with both the PTO and IRONMAN. I have worked closely with IRONMAN for years, including my role as an ambassador for the IM Foundation. My involvement with the PTO has not impacted that relationship. IRONMAN has been a platform for many of the professionals to grow their careers and we see the PTO as another platform. Giving the professionals multiple platforms to shine is great progress.
ST: What are your duties as a PTO pro ambassador? What are some of the most interesting things you are doing?
Tim: As Board Members, the athletes provide advice and direction for the PTO. As athletes we want to make an impact beyond our high profile races, currently we are working on creating several athlete-led committees to help improve other aspects of professional triathlon. Some of the committees will include: Anti-Doping & Sports Integrity, Athlete Development, Mentorship & Career Development, Health, Maternity & Injury and Tax Advisement & Legal Aid.
ST: Why did PTO choose you and Mirinda Carfrae?
Tim: Rinny and I were advocates from the beginning, inaugural members and remained active as a sounding board for Charles [Adamo] as he charged forward with making the PTO a reality. (Side note, Rinny stepped down for the Board earlier this year to allow for some new faces and perspectives to join the board.)
ST: What are you and members of the Board earning for your duties as PTO Ambassadors?
Tim: The PTO compensates people on performance: races and world rankings. The athletes on the Board are all volunteers and we are not paid for our roles as Board Members.
ST: What is your PTO points ranking and what does it pay?
Tim: I’m currently ranked 11th and received $30,000 for my PTO Bonus (Bonus was paid off of 10th place ranking prior to IM New Zealand)
ST: How important was it for PTO to choose as its leading officers/investors who want to model their place in the future of triathlon on professional golf?
Tim: It was the modeling on similar and very successful sports that attracted the investment.
ST: How do you see the PTO’s plan to create The Collins Cup working? How good a fit will it be to create the team camaraderie to sell the event? Any worries how the teams can build fans? Are there natural rivalries that will carry weight – with triathlon fans? With civilians?
Tim: It’s such a unique format to see head to head racing in triathlon. I believe our audience will love it. We also have some great personalities in our sport but we have never had the opportunity to really highlight their interactions with each other in a television broadcast. This format will really give us the opportunity to develop rivalries and conflict in our sport and that will make for great coverage. I believe fans will absolutely get behind their regions as well. We all want to see our flags flying highest! I’m not going to lie, the US team will have our work cut out for us against Europe and the Internationals, but in the infancy of the Ryder Cup, it wasn’t until the US was beaten that the American audience really got behind the team. They wanted to see them victorious and it elevated golf in the US. I believe the same can happen with the Collins Cup and triathlon in the US.
ST: After the initial hit from the pandemic - triathletes seemed to be hard hit. You, for example, just made a career breakthrough at Kona. And good health willing, you were/are poised to take that final step on the podium at Kona. Then came the pandemic and all your training and racing plans went on hold. How do you see things working out? Looking at some major sports: golf, auto racing, baseball, have started up with no fans in the stands. It looks like triathlon will be dependent on making high end and dramatically compelling television coverage to draw substantial sponsors.
Tim: Correct, that is our plan!
ST: How disappointed were you when the February 2021 Ironman and Ironman 70.3 World Championships were canceled?
Tim: Honestly, it was hard to put much stock in them with so much uncertainty in the world. The last few months have been an incredibly stressful time and quite hard for many of us to manage, considering all of these factors, I’ve chosen not to look that far out and instead focus on the day immediately ahead.
ST: Has the lockdown reality of the pandemic provided a good time for you and Rinny to spend more time with your daughter Izzy? What are you and Rinny doing to offer some age appropriate teaching?
Tim: We absolutely love getting to spend more time with Izzy, she came to our track session this morning and no joke, she ran an entire mile! We’ve been able to get out for hikes and adventures with her and just get to be present with her more often. She grew her own butterflies a few weeks back, is (pretend) “reading” us stories now and we just started with a program called the Pre-School box for some at home learning fun!