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'I am 10 times fitter now than I was in London' - Natalya Coyle ready to raise the bar in Rio

Hectic year in store for Ireland’s top modern pentathlete.

Image: Giuseppe Fama/INPHO

FOUR YEARS OLDER and four years wiser, Natalya Coyle is in a good place as she sets her sights on Rio.

Coyle was just 21, competing in the relatively obscure sport of modern pentathlon, when she travelled to the London Olympics.

Her presence alone was historic: Ireland did send a team of three UK-based athletes to Moscow in 1980 following the American boycott, but Coyle was the first Irish Olympian to qualify outright.

Her performance exceeded all expectations: ninth place, turning enough heads to sow the seeds of further growth for the five-discipline sport.

Now Pentathlon Ireland has a home on the National Sports Campus in Abbotstown. Gone are the days when Coyle would have to traipse back and forth across the city to train in her various events: swimming, fencing, show jumping, cross-country running and shooting.

Next July, the Youth A World Championships will be held in the University of Limerick, another endorsement of the sport’s growth in this country.

“When I started there wouldn’t have been a team going to Youth A Worlds so it’s great to see that there’s going to be depth,” Coyle says. “Those young ones are going to be kicking at my heels soon enough!”

On a personal level too, the Tara athlete feels that she is leagues ahead of her London self.

She is currently ranked 36th in the world, though most of her best performances this season have not been in individual competition but in the relay event with team-mate Arthur Lanigan-O’Keeffe. Two World Cup silvers, another silver at the World Cup Finals, and an agonising fourth at the World Championships makes for a strong double act.

Source: Giuseppe Fama/INPHO

With her own Olympic qualification looking assured, but not yet guaranteed, Coyle faces another busy travel year in 2016.

She reels off the itinerary like flicking through pages of a passport: Egypt, Rio for the Olympic test event, Budapest, Italy, the US, World Championships in Russia.

A top three finish in Russia would clinch her Olympic return and for now, that is the number one focus.

“The aim for me is what it was for London: to qualify and then, once you’ve qualified, to focus on performing as well.

I am 10 times fitter now than I was in London. Sport never stops. You constantly have to keep getting better, and if I was to compete in London now, who knows where I’d come?

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“Sport has moved on, the running has got so much faster, so has swimming, all my PBs are an awful lot higher than they were then, so for me in Rio it’s just going to be to perform as best as I can.”

Natalya Coyle Coyle in action at the London 2012 Olympics, where she finished ninth. Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

There is a new maturity to Coyle now, the kind that is only built up through experience of competing at the top level.

Her nerves got the better of her at the European Championships where she finished 11th, she admits, and she continues to work with sports psychologist Kate Kirby to tweak the mental side of her performance.

She is even more diligent with her equipment, a lot of which is tailored especially to suit her. Her custom-moulded gun handle is rarely out of sight when she travels; many an evening has been spent fiddling with her fencing épées, which are “like a second hand.”

There were other lessons that had to be learned the hard way.

“After London I took about three weeks off and I went full pelt back into it again,” she recalls.

“We won our first mixed relay medal then and I was actually competing probably the best I’ve ever done, and then I just broke down.

I was anaemic, everything was gone. I couldn’t train, I kept getting sick, I kept getting injured, and it was because I’d overtrained.

“A lot of people do that, especially after the Olympics, and I was too headstrong to listen to the people telling me I should stop.

“That was a big learning curve for me because I had to take four months off, of complete rest, and then to ramp up then after four months off… I could barely fit into my swimming togs let alone swim up and down the swimming pool.”

It’s all experience. When Coyle hopefully takes her place on the Rio start line, she will have no shortage of it.

About the author:

Niall Kelly

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