The outdoor track season was one of personal-record performances, first place finishes and of course, gold medals for Greenwich High School’s Andrew O’Donnell.
Following victories in the 400-meter run at the FCIAC and CIAC Class LL Championships, O’Donnell was seeded first in the event at the ultra-competitive State Open Championships held at Willow Brook Park in New Britain on Thursday.
And the season, which had already been a success, kept getting better for O’Donnell.
A junior, O’Donnell added another 400-meter dash title to his collection, winning the race at the State Open with a personal-record time of 48.31 seconds. Senior Jonathan Tarbet of New Milford was the runner-up (49.35), followed by Wilton senior Jack Myers (49.48). At the Class LL Championships also at Willow Brook, O’Donnell earned the gold medal in the 400-meter run, clocking in a 48.36. He was the champion in the event at the FCIAC (48.78).
Thursday’s State Open saw O’Donnell take the lead halfway through the race.
“It was definitely a huge win for me in the 400,” O’Donnell said. “Leading up to the race, I was feeling a little bit of nerves but my teammates and coaches were there to reassure me. All my energy got released, I took lead at about 200 mark and after that, was focusing on finishing strong. I Pushed through the last 100.”
Indeed, the thrill and pure joy of winning the State Open title in the 400 were emotions he won’t forget.
“It felt surreal, I felt blessed to be put in the situation and I couldn’t thank everyone who was helping me through the season enough,” O’Donnell said. “It was a unique feeling. As soon as I crossed the finish line, there was a brief moment of relief. I was happy to get some points for our team to contribute to the team effort of the meet. I felt a lot of people were relying on me, so I felt like I fulfilled my role on the team, which was pretty good feeling.”
O’Donnell certainly ignited Greenwich’s strong seventh-place performance in the team standings at the State Open, which included 61 teams. The Cardinals scored 22 points at the meet, with O’Donnell helping lead the squad to 21 points.
Thursday marked O’Donnell’s first appearance at the State Open. Like all competitors, his 2020 season on the Cardinals was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“At the State Open, was really cool to see everyone warm up and doing their thing, the atmosphere was very serious and it was cool to see that,” he said. “It was cool to see people in the other events setting meet records and reaching their goals as well. I got to see all the best athletes from every event in Connecticut.”
Greenwich boys track and field coach Jeff Klein told O’Donnell the 400 would be his main race prior to the season’s start and O’Donnell, indeed, rose to the occasion in the event.
“I saw really significant progress throughout the season,” O’Donnell said. “I had a PR (personal-record) in every single meet by getting in good shape and taking my workouts seriously. My goals going into the season were helping my teammates score. I think it’s safe to say I exceeded my own expectations, while contributing to the team.”
In the 200-meter dash at Thursday’s State Open, O’Donnell had a fourth place finish with a time of 22.59.
“The 200 for me was not my best race I did better at the LL meet, which was a little disappointing, but I didn’t let it get to me,” he said. “A lot of my competition was fresh which made it a little more difficult. I just ran the best I could I and it was still really exciting to get some points for my team throughout the meet.”
O’Donnell credits his coaches for helping him prepare for the 400 and 200 events.
“Coach Klein and coach Jen St. Jean helped work me out and helped me reach my individual goals,” he said. “All of my coaches have been really supportive, they are who I look to a lot since I don’t have a lot of track experience going into the season. “They will take time out of their day if I need help and they are always going to every single kid on the team and making sure they are getting better. All of our coaches make sure everyone on the team is getting better.”
Several teammates, two of whom were injured at times, also enabled O’Donnell to run at a high level.
“Shaan Parek, Kayla Egan and Tyler Bacco all came to the meets to make sure I could prepare and recover even if they weren’t competing themselves,” O’Donnell said. “This was a huge benefit for me that other people in the state didn’t have. I couldn’t have accomplished my achievements without those three in particular, amongst others.”
Junior ZJ Jelinek placed eighth for the Cards in the 800-meter run, clocking in at 1:57.25. Sophomore Gianluca Bianchi was 10th for GHS in the 400-meter dash (50.84). In the 4×400-meter relay, freshman Harrison Goldenberg, Bianchi, Jelinek and O’Donnell earned the third-place medal, combining for a time of 3:24.13. Naugatuck won the race in 3:22.99.
“The 4×4 is probably my favorite race, because as a basketball player I’ve always liked the team aspect of sports,” O’Donnell said. “Everyone seemed really ready to go ZJ, Gianluca and Harrison went out and ran good times. When I got the baton I gave it everything I had to move us up to third and we got a PR in the event.”
As a junior this year, O’Donnell also competed on Greenwich’s cross country team in the fall and the school’s basketball team in the winter. Besides competing in outdoor track next spring, he will also run cross country this fall and play basketball in the winter – he will serve as one of the Cardinals’ basketball captains. Since he didn’t run indoor/winter track, he had to train especially hard for the spring track season.
“Going into the season, I was still in basketball shape and not track shape,” said O’Donnell, who explained that playing basketball helped prepare him for events like the 200. “It is a different type of shape you have to be in. I was running six days a week throughout the track season and incorporating some lifting as well. Then in duel meets, I would run four events in every single meet, which was a huge advantage to me. It gave me a great workout every single meet.”
Several Greenwich athletes, including O’Donnell will take their skills to the Outdoor Nationals, presented by Nike, at Hayward Field at the University of Oregon. The Outdoor Nationals is scheduled to take place June 30-July 3. O’Donnell will run in the 400-meter event and will be a part of Greenwich’s 4×400 relay and sprint relay teams at the national meet.
“Even though we competed in the State Open, we will still be having practices to make sure everyone is in great shape for nationals,” he said.
After producing an impressive 2021 season, the future looks bright for Greenwich’s track and field program.
“We were all excited about placing seventh in the entire state at the State Open,” said O’Donnell, whose older sister Lauren, a 2019 GHS graduate and track captain, encouraged him to run. “That was a huge accomplishment for us as a program. Now everyone is going to try to get better themselves. We will have a strong returning team next year. Everyone is invested in the team and I think we’ll place high.”