2020’s Multisport Movers and Shakers: Ian O’Brien

USA national team coach Ian O’Brien is one of the top elite short-course coaches in the U.S.

For access to all of our training, gear, and race coverage, plus exclusive training plans, FinisherPix photos, event discounts, and GPS apps, sign up for Outside+.

After a very weird 2020, we’re (finally) now headed into 2021—but there are still a lot of questions left unanswered, in the world and in our sport. Who will help shape triathlon? Who are the people working in front of and behind the scenes to do exciting, new, or interesting things? Who should you keep your eye on in the next multisport year?

We racked our brains, scoured the tri-space, and came up with this varied list of multisport movers and shakers—all of whom we’re looking forward to watching in 2021. We can’t wait to see what they do and how they change the sport in the year ahead. We’ll be revealing one person at a time over the next two weeks, but Active Pass members can view the entire list right now. First up, renowned coach Ian O’Brien.

Ian O’Brien

45 | Boulder, Colorado
USA National Team Coach, Elite National Coach of The Year 2018, 2019

It’s safe to say that few coaches have a background as serious as Ian O’Brien’s: He served for 16 years in the British Army as a Recon Commander where he acted “as a fully operational covert surveillance and strategic/surgical fighting force in numerous operational theaters around the globe” according to his (very intense) LinkedIn profile. Though he deployed to Bosnia, Kosovo, Iraq, and Afghanistan, among others, he eventually found a home as one of the top elite short-course coaches in the U.S.

“I spent a lot of my service time in high-intensity environments,” O’Brien said. “So being a coach to people who actually have very similar characteristics as those I served with has made this a really good fit for me.” And some of those people he’s led into the multisport battlefield include Matt McElroy—one of the top Olympic hopefuls for the U.S. and the first American man to stand on a WTS podium since 2009 when he took second at WTS Leeds in 2019. Eli Hemming, another up-and-coming member of the U.S. men’s team, joins McElroy, alongside a handful of international and domestic pros under O’Brien’s leadership.

As for 2021? O’Brien’s squad has its sights set firmly on Tokyo and is doing everything it can to prepare for the unique climate. “We have been experimenting with various methods of heat acclimation,” he said. “We will also be building a small training facility within Rallysport in Boulder to control training intensities and climate as we adapt to the conditions we will face in racing next year.”

O’Brien’s background in preparing soldiers for extreme situations is clearly paying off, and he’s absolutely the guy you’d want in your corner when conditions get tough—like a brutally hot and humid Olympic Games with a likely myriad of protocols and procedures. But all of that doesn’t keep him from staying humble: “There really aren’t any secrets or magic that goes into this. The cohesion and trust my athletes have in me and the work ethic are all we have as a training group. They believe in what we do.”

Related for Active Pass Members: The Complete List of 2020’s Multisport Movers and Shakers