USF track and field athlete Matthew O’Neal got his first taste of overseas competition over the past few weeks when he placed eighth in the World University Games in Gwanju, South Korea.
O’Neal made it through the qualifying round, which began with 23 athletes. After qualifying for the final day, O’Neal survived another round of cuts before finishing eighth out of the remaining eight competitors.
“It was, in a sense, the Olympics for the university-level athlete,” O’Neal said. “They had 20 or so sports represented by different nations. It was a great experience and kind of a preview of what the Olympics could be like.”
O’Neal said he could have finished as high as third place if not for fouling on his best jump in the final round, but he said he’s still pleased with his finish in an international competition with some of the best competitors in the world.
“I was definitely happy with my performance to make the final in a competition such as this, especially when my season is pretty much done,” O’Neal said.
In his first experience competing on the other side of the world, O’Neal said his toughest challenge was finding a way to sleep at night due to the 13-hour time difference.
“I really didn’t get used to the time until the end of our stay there, about two weeks in,” O’Neal said. “You really had to make yourself stay up during the day. Most of us were only getting about five hours of sleep a night because of the time change.”
When he was rested, O’Neal also faced the obstacle of competing against athletes much older than him — something he’s never encountered at the collegiate level.
“Before going there, I saw the age group that was able to come and I saw it went up to about 27 or 28, so I knew countries would bring athletes of that age,” O’Neal said.
When he was able to find free time, O’Neal said he was able to see one of USF guard Courtney Williams’ games.
Entering his senior season, O’Neal will give up playing soccer to spend the entire year training for the track and field season with his eye on more international competitions and avoiding injuries.
“This year I’ll be able to train an entire year for track, so I’m looking to do a lot better and continue to do my best,” O’Neal said. “If the opportunity comes, I’ll definitely try out for the Olympics.”