Ninth in London, sixth in Rio, a podium in Tokyo?
Natalya Coyle doesn’t see why not. The two-time Olympian hasn’t been shy about voicing her ambitions for a medal this week, and she has good reason to approach the modern pentathlon with confidence.
When she looks back now at those results in 2012 and 2016, she sees them as peaks far and above anything she had produced in the competitions dotted around them. Put it another way, and she over-performed based on all known form.
That’s a useful trick to have in your locker on a big stage, but there is plenty to be said too about coming into an Olympic Games as Coyle has here with a string of medals and a fifth-place finish in the World Cup final.
“I’ve steadily been getting more consistent and better across the years, so I definitely think I can get better each Games.
I know they’re far apart but this time round I have much better performances leading up to it than I had previously.
“It’s about the experience. I used to get more nervous but I’ve been in medal positions multiple times now, so I don’t get as nervous as I used to. My fencing has come on an awful lot as well, so it’s put me in those positions for the end of the day.
“Just doing those things over and over has made it less nerve-wracking, whereas before it was like, ‘oh my God, I’m so high up,’ and then suddenly I’m 12th. Whereas now it’s like, ‘oh, I’m so high up’ and I can keep going.”
She’s 30 now, a veteran athlete who jokes about feeling her age when she mixed with some of the teenagers on the Irish swimming team at the pre-Games holding camp in Fukuroi but that experience pays off in any number of ways.
Gone is the wide-eyed kid who rocked up in London nine years ago. She got as big a kick as anyone at seeing how elated the likes of the Irish hockey players were to qualify for these Games, but her own buzz is tempered by the fact that this isn’t her first rodeo.
“It’s really exciting and a great honour but I also see it more pragmatically. There’s a job to be done. And especially in this Covid era it’s weird — there is a job to be done and all the razzmatazz of the Olympics has been gotten rid of by Covid anyway. I still love it, and I’m really excited to watch everything, but I’ve gone to my third Games now and when I think back to my first one, I just wanted to qualify and I was so excited … I still love it as much as I did the first time, but it’s just a different kind of feeling.”
Some things never change, regardless of age or pandemics.
Coyle’s entry into Japan was complicated when one of her competition guns raised eyebrows coming through customs. Experience has taught her to be vocal in these situations but she knew that wasn’t the way to handle things in Japan and instead let it run its course. She has spent much of the time since arrival concentrating on her fencing, a discipline that has improved in recent years but one which she struggled to practise during the pandemic for the dearth of training partners.
She had five to spar with here the last few weeks: Two Irish, as well as others from Britain, Lithuania, and Estonia. The only thing missing really has been her partner Arthur Lanigan-O’Keeffe who was deprived of his third Olympic experience due to a hip injury.
“I think he dealt with it pretty well, in the circumstances. The great thing was that he did actually qualify in the end, which was like a silver lining. The fact he can say he did qualify for three Games is a great thing to be able to say.”