When Natalya Coyle finished ninth in the modern pentathlon at the London Olympics as a 21-year-old, she opened a lot of eyes on these shores to the original Olympic sport. After coming from an equestrian background in Meath, Coyle has honed the other skills to become an elite performer on the world stage.
Q: Why do you fence with your left hand and hold your gun with the right?
I am actually left-handed but when I was introduced to the sport first in Kells, they had no gun with a left-handed grip. So I had to get used to the right-handed one and once I did, there was no point in changing.
Q: You are just back from the European Championships. How was the form?
I did the women’s and mixed relay. I did the women’s with Sive Brassil and we came sixth which is really good as it’s our first relay together so that could be a really good team for the future. Then I’d the mixed with Arthur (Lanigan O’Keeffe). We could have been in the run for a medal for sure but unfortunately I took a bit of a tumble on the horse and we came sixth but it’s kind of nearly more exciting because we were so disappointed with the sixth. We can grow from the sixth in the women’s because that’s new but with Arthur we expect to be on the podium.
Q: You and Arthur had some huge results last year as a pair, finishing second at three World Cup events. Then you got gold in Sarasota last May in your only competition this year as you concentrated on your individual preparations. Pity it’s not an Olympic event.
Hopefully we’ll find out before Rio if it is. It’s supposed to be brought in for Tokyo. There’s a big push for mixed relay events to make it more exciting so if they do, that would be very tasty.
Q: You mentioned the tumble. It is one thing having to ride a horse you don’t know but surely it’s a flaw in modern pentathlon when the fortune extends to the actual quality of the horses you draw.
Yeah but in the Olympics they’ll have really good horses. I was in Rio in February and they’d really, really good ones and I rode well there. You have to trust - yeah, you can have a dog and I did have a dog (at the Europeans), a very bad one – but you’ve got to trust that you know what you’re doing. John (Ledingham) has coached us for years. We’ve come from horse riding, we’ve come from pony clubs so that stands to you. I had a bit of a tumble this week but all the years at pony club and falling off a little, fat, tiny Shetland taught me how to do it well. Some people don’t know how to fall and get hurt.
Q: Your place in Rio was only confirmed last month. You had some bad luck along the way but were you ever worried you might not make it?
I was pretty positive after last year’s Europeans because while 11th wasn’t automatic (for qualification), I was thinking it would probably roll down as it usually does to 11th or 12th. But you can’t rest on your laurels with that so it was a niggling worry. I knew if I didn’t qualify that I didn’t deserve to but I knew the standard that I am and that I was competing at, that I should be there.
Q: Knowing that and particularly expecting to improve as you got stronger after London – that must have been a concern though or is it about good timing now?
We’re timing it well now. Things like the World Cup final are frustrating because I definitely would have finished in the top 10 because I’m very good combined (pistol and run) to finish off the day and then I had a bad horse. You probably saw on TV, I had a bit of a freak-out attack afterwards but that’s the nature of the sport unfortunately and you just have to move on. I’m pretty sure we’ve picked a very good programme and I’m looking forward to Rio.
Q: If you get a bit of luck and hit your marks then, top 10 must be your minimum target?
Basically what I want to do is hit a personal best in every one of my sports like I did in London. If I do that again, the sky’s the limit and I’m on form for that.
Q: You spoke about show jumping legend John Ledingham coaching you. Your support network has grown in the past four years.
It’s fantastic. We were in the Institute of Sport training earlier on in Abbotstown, which is phenomenal. We had physio, psychologists, nutritionists and then we have all our individual coaches. We have a huge team which is great because even though you might do an individual sport you have a massive support network behind you. It’s like a big family.
Q: There is an Irish team competing in the European Youth Championships at Limerick (this weekend). There will be depth in years to come.
There’ll be a new generation of super athletes. I’m very confident of that. Already we’ve had Sive Brassil and Kate Coleman in with me and they have been doing great things. They push me in training as well – Sive is a phenomenal swimmer – and we all bring each other on. They always make training fun. With the youths as well, Tokyo in 2020 should be exciting.
Q: The modern pentathlon is at the very end of the Olympics so how do you avoid getting bored and caught up in Olympic frenzy.
We’ll be in a holding camp about an hour away from Rio. We’ll be there two weeks. Everything we need will be there, the facilities are great and it will be relaxed. We’ll be tapering down.
Q: The Olympics are the end of a cycle but for you, is there more ahead?
It’s a bit different to London because I was always focussing on Rio. But this time I’m waiting to see if the relay comes in and then I’ll have a decision about what I’m gonna do. I’ll look forward to a break after Rio, recharge the batteries but I can’t wait to get stuck in. If relay came in I’d say I would focus on that because it becomes a different sport. It’s a power sport in relay, sprinting but we’re naturally good at that. It suits us very well. But for now, it’s all about Rio.
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