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'You're always thinking could I have done anything better?' - Coyle reflects on seventh in Rio

It’s been a hectic 2016 for the modern pentathlete but the two-time Olympian is showing no signs of slowing down.

Natalya Coyle in action in the running and shooting leg of the modern pentathlon in Rio.
Natalya Coyle in action in the running and shooting leg of the modern pentathlon in Rio.
Image: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

NATALYA COYLE ISN’T usually one for taking breaks — it’s probably par for the course with multi-eventers.

However, as a hectic 2016 draws to a close the Meath modern pentathlete is looking forward to putting her feet up and indulging in some Christmas fare, even if it’s only for a few hours.

That being said, she is still planning to run up the historic Hill of Tara tomorrow, as long as she can convince her brother to tackle the climb with her, something, she admits, which is proving more difficult as the years pass.

A multi-talented athlete, Coyle has also been demonstrating her versatility in other walks of life in recent times.

Media work and commentary with RTÉ for the Paralympics began only weeks after her impressive seventh place finish in Rio, her second top-10 result in as many Olympics.

Coyle also works with Sky Sports’ Living for Sport programme which involves promoting sport among young people, via schools visits, and detailing its benefits for physical and mental health.

That’s when she’s not training for fencing, shooting, running, swimming and showjumping, of course.

If the general public were scratching their heads wondering where to start with modern pentathlon four years ago, this time around Coyle, team-mate Arthur Lanigan-O’Keeffe and the sport itself are clearly past that awkward meet-and-greet phase.

Coyle, in particular, is making quite a name for herself, and on her own terms. And that has long been an aim for the bubbly 26-year-old from Tara whose father Ray founded Largo Foods, best known for manufacturing Tayto crisps, Hunky Dorys and many more Irish favourites.

Now, the stars are aligning for Coyle and they all seem to be pointing towards Tokyo 2020.

Having turned 26 earlier this month she knows her athletic peak should still be ahead of her, she’ll have a full Olympic cycle at a training base that caters for all of her needs for the first time, not to mention the experience gained from her last two Games.

As for properly slowing down? No chance. It’s her way of staying on top of things.

“I’ve been pretty busy but I like it that way,” Coyle tells The42.

“I think it’s much easier to keep going and doing something, it’s great if there are opportunities like that [media work].

I kind of think as well when a lot of people talk about post-Olympics it’s kind of the down that can come with it, for me if I stay just really, really busy that helps with everything.

Right now Coyle is making the most of a window to get a solid base of training under her belt.

The way 2016 panned out — between months of qualification for Rio and all that followed — she feels she hasn’t had a chance to fine-tune her skills, and particularly her running, outside of competition.

As a result, she is planning a later return to competitive action than usual — a May start will allow her to battle for honours in two World Cup meetings, the Europeans and the World Championships in Cairo next August.

The proposed addition of a mixed relay event to the modern pentathlon Olympic portfolio in four years’ time is another carrot that will keep Coyle salivating.

When you consider she won World Cup gold alongside Kilkenny’s Lanigan-O’Keeffe in Florida seven months ago, it’s easy to understand why Coyle is keen for the relay to be added to the Japan itinerary, a decision which will be made in March.

Arthur Lanigan-O'Keeffe and Natalya Coyle Arthur Lanigan-O'Keeffe and Natalya Coyle. Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

But right now, having had four months to reflect on Rio, Coyle can’t help but wonder if she could have done anything different. Heading into the final event just two places off a medal, it’s surely easy to get stuck in replay mode.

“It’s fantastic to have come seventh and to have two top tens but you know when you get that close as well, you’re always thinking ‘aw could I have done anything better?’.”

One overwhelming feeling that seems to be radiating from so many of Ireland’s Olympians in Rio, despite a reduced medal haul on London, was the strength of the team spirit.

Having so many of the country’s leading athletes based at one facility — in Abbotstown — is clearly creating a positive familiarity across different codes. And Coyle believes we will start to see the benefits of this in years to come.

“I think we’re kind of riding on the crest of a wave at the moment which is great,” Coyle adds.

“Everyone is really happy out in Abbotstown and you can kind of see that.

Everyone is happy going to training. Of course there are dips, it’s not always great. But I think that there’s just a better atmosphere the whole time.

“If you are having a bad day you’re coming back to people who are as well or who aren’t and who understand.

“I think social media has a huge role to play in all of that too.

“Before London I talked to a couple of the Olympians on Twitter, just before we had ever met. And then you meet them all over there.

“Now,  you have the Institute of Sport at Abbotstown that you meet everyone out at.

“Before you go you know probably about 80% of the team. I think it makes it much better at the Olympics as well.

“You have people to talk to who know what you’re going through. I know we didn’t bring home as many medals this time but the performances across the board would definitely rank higher than they did in London.”

Coyle has become one of the most high-profile women in Irish sport, and while debate rages around quotas and the best ways to tackle inequality across the board, the Meath native certainly doesn’t feel like she has suffered because of her gender, something, she admits, is likely because her chosen pursuit is protected by its Olympic status.

“I think it’s definitely getting much better,” Coyle says of female representation in Irish sport.

“I find, for me anyway, in an Olympic sport my experience has been pretty positive because I grew up competing with the two other boys on the squad. Anything they got, I got and most things I got, they got.

“I think in an Olympic sport, because there is a real similarity, a medal is a medal. It’s not a difference in money or anything like that.

“The way our funding goes, it’s all the same, there’s no gender difference or anything.

“I think it’s great to see in GAA and rugby that it is getting bigger and better and the end goal I hope is that it encourages more women, especially younger people maybe 16 and 17, where you see the huge drop-off, that they get back into sport or at least pick it up.”

Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

Coyle has many interests outside of the cyclical world of training and competition, although her love of sport remains at the heart of everything she does whether that is talking to kids about the importance of staying active, encouraging others to eat more nutritious foods, or promoting modern pentathlon to a wider audience.

She gets a kick out of seeing such a swell of interest in her minority sport, and all its quirks, but mostly she insists she feels duty-bound to give back as she considers herself so fortunate to have scaled such heady heights.

“I am very passionate about things like nutrition mainly because the work I do with Sky Sports Living for Sport I see a lot of schools and you can see the huge obesity issue among young people.

“You can see a lot of young people who don’t want to do sport and I’ve got so many opportunities from it. I kind of want people to even get half the enjoyment I’ve got out of it would be something. I think that’s a huge thing.

“Growing up with sport and getting all of these opportunities I think you have a responsibility to give back any way that you can.”

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