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Dublin: 7 °C Tuesday 26 March, 2019
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Coyle and Lanigan O'Keeffe continue to fly the flag amid potential Tokyo 2020 boost

Following World Cup Series gold and a Rio upgrade, the Olympic stars now await news on the mixed relay’s inclusion at the next Games.

NATALYA COYLE AND Arthur Lanigan O’Keeffe have had a hectic few weeks.

Arthur Lanigan O’Keeffe and Natalya Coyle Arthur Lanigan O’Keeffe and Natalya Coyle. Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

Both two-time Olympians, the duo won gold in the mixed relay at a modern pentathlon World Cup Series event in Poland last week.

While competing there, Coyle’s mother noticed something different about the Rio Olympic results online. The website had been updated, and her daughter was now sitting in sixth place rather than seventh. A few phone calls later and the news was confirmed.

Last month also saw Lanigan O’Keeffe complete his final college exams. All in all, not a bad few weeks.

The next few may bring further positive news as they await to hear if the mixed relay — the event they won at the International Modern Pentathlon Union (UIPM) World Cup IV event in Poland — will be included at the 2020 Games in Tokyo.

Both top-eight finishers in their respective modern pentathlons in last summer’s Olympics, while Kilkenny native Lanigan-O’Keeffe was also crowned European champion in 2015, they work even better as a team.

If it’s voted in by the International Olympic Committee in July, it would really boost Ireland’s medal hopes as the duo would be considered hot favourites.

“We’re hearing pretty good news on it but we really know until they vote on it in July,” Lanigan O’Keeffe says at the Launch of Laser-Run World Championship, which will be held in Ireland for the first time in 2018. “What we’ve heard has been pretty positive which gives us hope.”

“The Olympics are trying to have that parity between men and women,” Coyle continues. “It’s a really easy way to increase audience without having to have extra participants. Only people who qualify for the Olympics can do it. It’s just one extra medal.

“It also puts a new spin on training which is good, it would mean we’d be fresher. We can focus in on different things and liven it up.”

Of course, they’ll still have to qualify and compete individually, but pairing up for a team event at the Olympics would be ideal for the modern pentathletes.

The format of the event would mean that both do half of the normal distance and then their scores are combined.

Natalya Coyle celebrates finishing 7th Coyle's result from the Rio Olympics has been upgraded. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

Coyle labels them both as ‘power athletes’ and says that’s why they are a good fit for the relay.

“I swim 2:17 for 200m swimming but I’ll swim 1:01 for 100m. We’re both power athletes, not endurance athletes, in our run and swim, that’s why the [mixed] relay really suits us.

“That’s the way we’re physically wired.”

Lanigan O’Keeffe agrees that that its inclusion in Tokyo would be a boost for the pair, and feels that their specialism is not just down to physical ability and performance.

“That system works even better for us. It stops them getting a new breed of specialist athletes, pure sprinters. We’re able to qualify in our own right because we are naturally good as specialised sprinters. I don’t know how many teams can say that.

“We have a good relationship and work really well with each other. If one of us has a shortfall on the day, the other makes up for it.

“You’re not on your own. If one of us is really bad the other can offer some encouragement and that helps a lot. It’s much more of a team and a fun environment.”

In terms of modern pentathlon, Meath native Coyle feels that she doesn’t have one standout event but ‘none of them bring me down which is useful.’

Her first Olympics was London 2012. It’s often said that your first Olympics is almost like a trial and results aren’t the focus, while it’s your second where you properly peak. Coyle peaked at both though.

She finished ninth in her debut Games, making a name for herself and truly announcing herself on the scene. She then went on to Rio last summer, where she raised the bar to finish seventh.

Obviously thrilled with that feat, last week saw her go one even better to sixth place.

China’s Chen Qian failed a doping test and consequently saw her fourth-place result disregarded.

As mentioned, her mother noticed a change in the results on the website while Coyle was competing in Poland. She didn’t want to call her daughter incase there was a mix-up. Upon her return however, the 26-year-old had the news confirmed.

“There’s been no hoo-haw or anything but I’d say that’s cause she [Qian] hasn’t been given a sanction yet.

Arthur Lanigan O’Keeffe Lanigan O'Keeffe finished eighth in Rio. Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

“It’s slightly bittersweet. It’s great to say I finished top six but it didn’t change anything, 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. It was fantastic when it happened in Cork but it wasn’t the same as standing on a podium in London.”

On the subject of doping and drugs in sport, they both acknowledge the fact that they’re ever present

“Drugs…. you’re aware that they’re there, just like in most Olympic sports,” Lanigan O’Keeffe continues.

“But you can’t obsess on it, especially during competition. You have have to do you own thing and hope their comeuppance will come eventually. You have to do what you can do.

“In Ireland if someone gets caught for doping, it’s extremely bad. There’s a lot of stigma attached to it but in some countries that stigma isn’t there so the consequences of getting caught are so much less. Unless that changes culturally. It’ll take a long time for it to change.

“I think both sides (dopers and testers) will keep moving,” Coyle agrees. “In some countries there’s more of a doping culture.

“Unlike Ireland, there’s no stigma about getting caught in some countries. If it was actually illegal and people could go to jail for it, that might change people’s attitudes.”

“We’ve such a strong anti-doping presence in Ireland. We get tested so often. It would be great to see if other countries would apply what we have.

For example, they’re both tested once every quarter here at a minimum, while Coyle says that she was tested about 15 times in 2016 ahead of the Games.

A busy period of competition lies ahead for the double act.

There’s Europeans and World Championships later in the summer, but first up is the World Cup final — and their title defence from last summer’s relay — in Lithuania from 22 to 25 June.

Arthur Lanigan O’Keeffe and Natalya Coyle Coyle and Lanigan O'Keeffe at the launch of Laser-Run World Championship, Dublin 2018. Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

Kazakhstan and Germany finished second and third, and well behind Coyle and Lanigan O’Keeffe in Poland last week but there were a few notable absentees on the day. The Russians, Koreans, Czechs and the French will all be big threats in Lithuania as the big guns return to action.

“The more the merrier,” they echo each other’s words. “Bring it on!”

The Olympic stars were both speaking at the launch of the 2018 Laser Run World Championships, which will be held in Smithfield, Dublin next September.

It’s a combination of 800m loops and target-shooting with laser pistols, and the fifth element of modern pentathlon.

Coyle and O’Keeffe have never competed in it as a separate event, but are looking forward to welcoming 450 athletes from 20 other countries. The event will also include a competition for Irish schools.

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Emma Duffy

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