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Irish pentathlete Natalya Coyle on Rio 2016, the 'big' year ahead and her love of sleep

After enjoying an encouraging 2014, the Meath woman is confident of qualifying for Brazil.

Natalya Coyle was named Irish national champion in 2014.
Natalya Coyle was named Irish national champion in 2014.
Image: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

Updated at 15.37

NATALYA COYLE’S 2014 was certainly more memorable than her 2013.

Having spent much of the previous 12 months out injured, the Irish pentathlete returned as strong as ever this year.

“It was really nice to be back and competing and qualifying for the European finals,” she tells TheScore.ie. “It was a really good building base for Rio.

“I had a lot of PBs as well, so it was all very positive ahead of next season, which is the big one, and will hopefully involve qualifying for Rio.”

The Meath native competes in modern pentathlon — a mixture of fencing, 200m freestyle swimming, show jumping, and a final combined event of pistol shooting and a 3200m cross-country run.

And not only did Coyle rediscover the type of form that saw her finish ninth at the London 2012 Olympics (despite only being ranked 29th in the world going into the competition), her excellent performances yielded some notable results.

Coyle was crowned national champion, as well as being the only pentathlete to earn an Olympic scholarship from the Olympic Council of Ireland – an initiative that sees the top Irish athletes in minority sports such as Lisa Kearney in Judo and Chloe Magee in Badminton receive a much-needed boost in funding.

But while 2014 has been hugely encouraging from her perspective, it will count for little if 2015 does not prompt a positive outcome in the form of Olympics qualification.

However, simply competing again at a high level and improving as much as possible was Coyle’s initial priority following her lengthy absence through injury.

“I’ve been back training since the beginning of September, so it’s been really intense — lots of hard running,” she says. “Running is one of my weaker areas, so that’s something I want to work on, and also, basic skills like fencing. The winter’s always a tough time, and then it’ll build in next year for World Cups.”

Yet getting back into her groove was made easier as a result of the considerable confidence boost that her performance at the London Olympics prompted.

“Looking back now, it was fantastic to do as well as I did,” she explains. “I took a lot of experience from it and showed I could be up there. It shows that even though we’re a small nation, we can compete with the best in the world.

“I’m looking forward to next year and qualification. The first thing to do is qualify and then we’ll look on from there.”

And following her Olympics success, Coyle expressed hope that her achievement would have a substantial impact on participation levels in modern pentathlon in Ireland. Over two years on, has she found this to be the case?

“Definitely, there’s an awful lot more interaction at youth level and the Olympics helped the sport in general.

“Most sports in it would have seen an uprising and it’s really good to see, because childhood obesity is such a big problem in Ireland, so it’s great to see kids doing any sports.

“There are a lot more younger boys and girls starting to do modern pentathlon, and a lot more girls who are coming up and challenging me, which is really good and will push me on. It’s encouraging, and I think across all sports in Ireland, there’s been a rise.”

Natalya Coyle Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

(Coyle exceeded expectations at the 2012 Olympics, finishing ninth in modern pentathlon) 

Coyle herself first took up pentathlon through her involvement in Irish Pony Club and initially excelled in triathlon. So given this incredibly eclectic mix of activities, are there any sports she isn’t particularly proficient at?

“Sometimes I try sports that I’m not that good at. On one of my training days, we had to do some tag rugby and I wasn’t up there with the rest of the girls.

“But I used to play hockey in school and if I didn’t do pentathlon, I’d probably be trying to get to the top in a different sport.”

She continues: [Training for pentathlon's various events] does take a lot of balance. We have a very good high-performance director who kind of organises all of that.

“So I’ve got a really good team around me, helping me balance things with work and thinking of other things besides sport, because sometimes if you’re focusing too intently on one thing, you don’t really produce your best performance as a result.”

And Coyle ostensibly isn’t in any danger of becoming overly obsessed with her sport. In addition to training 24 hours a week, she studies part-time at night, attending college three times a week and also works as a Sky Sports mentor. Of the latter responsibility, she says:

“I get to go into Dublin, Louth, Meath area and I help children through sport or whatever they want to do. It’s about helping children realise that they have life skills and just helping them do whatever they want to do, because not everyone wants to do sport.

“The Sky Sports people get loads of other athletes, so it’s nice to be part of it and great to be doing these things and giving back through sport as well.”

Coyle, who turned 24 earlier this month, is also a big proponent of the importance of sleep for athletes, and has been known to state her fondness for it in interviews.

Is she therefore pentathlon’s answer to Ireland’s other famous sporting sleep lover, Damien Duff?

“I think most athletes will tell you the same — if you’re up early for a morning training session, you then have to do a bit of recovery that evening, because I’d do about three or four sessions a day, so eating well and sleeping well is a big part of that.

“Some nights I wouldn’t sleep that well, or I might not get seven or eight hours, but I would try to supplement that with a nap. I would sleep for an hour or two during the day. Some mornings, we do fencing or swimming at 8, and then other mornings, it might not be until 10 o’clock [that I get up].

“It fluctuates during the week but I try to go to bed and make sure I do get good sleep, because if you’re tired after not sleeping well, it’s very difficult to function.”

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About the author:

Paul Fennessy

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