Modern pentathlon mixed relay would boost Ireland’s Olympic medal prospects

Ireland’s chances of winning medals at the next Olympic Games could increase substantially next month if the International Olympic Committee votes to introduce a new ‘mixed relay’ in modern pentathlon.

Ireland’s world-class pentathletes Natalya Coyle and Arthur Lanigan O’Keeffe — both top eight finishers in Rio last summer — are optimistic that the event will make it onto the Olympic programme for Tokyo 2020.

The mixed relay is part of pentathlon’s World Cup programme and they’ve already proven themselves among the world’s best pairings.

“We’re hearing pretty good things, we have high hopes though we won’t know until the vote in July,” said Thomastown’s Lanigan O’Keeffe.

“The Olympics are trying to have more parity between men and women and this is an easy way to do that,” observed Meath star Coyle.

“Only people who have qualified individually for Tokyo would be able to do the relay so it won’t mean extra Olympic participants, just more medals,” she added.

Coyle was ninth on her Olympic debut in London 2012 and, in the past week, has been upgraded to sixth in Rio 2016 after the fourth-placed Chinese finisher Qian Chen was disqualified for a banned diuretic. Lanigan-O’Keeffe won the European title in 2015 and finished eighth in Rio yet they are even better as a pair.

The won relay gold at pentathlon’s World Cup Finals in America last year and travel to Lithuania on June 22-25 to defend that title after topping the relay podium at the latest World Cup, in Poland, a week ago.

“We are really well suited to relay because it is half the distance that we usually do individually and we’re both naturally ‘power athletes’ who are best suited to shorter, sprint distances,” Coyle explained.

She said the news of her Olympic promotion was ‘bitter-sweet’. She explained: “It’s great to say I finished top six but it didn’t change anything because I didn’t win a medal. It’s much worse in these situations to miss out a medal and a place on the podium, like Rob Heffernan in 2012.”

Coyle was drug-tested 15 times in 2016 and noted how testing and attitudes to doping are far less rigorous in other countries.

She feels that making it a crime under legislation might be the only way to finally rid cheats from sports.

“Unlike Ireland, there’s no stigma about getting caught (doping) in some countries. If it was actually illegal, and people were sent to jail for it, that might change people’s attitudes,” she said.

She was speaking at the launch of a major international event in Dublin next year when the Laser-Run World Championships will be held in the unique city-centre location of Smithfield.

Laser-Run, a combination of running 800m loops and target-shooting with laser pistols, is usually the fifth element of modern pentathlon but has been a standalone sport on the UIPM’s calendar since 2015. The event which Pentathlon Ireland will host in September 2018 will attract 450 athletes from over 20 countries and also include a new competition for Irish schools.


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