After a 13-month hiatus, Ireland’s elite pentathletes are ready to return to the competitive arena with Olympic goals still at the forefront of their minds.
UIPM 2021 Pentathlon World Cup Budapest (March 24-28) marks the continuation of qualification for the rescheduled Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games after a 13-month hiatus.
Natalya Coyle, Arthur Lanigan-O’Keeffe and Sive Brassil are all in the Hungarian capital and Coyle is the only one of the trio who has already secured her Olympic spot – thanks to an 8th place in the 2019 European Championships in Bath.
Ahead of her return to action alongside Brassil in the women’s qualification round on Wednesday (March 24), two-time Olympian Coyle said she was thrilled to be on the brink of returning to do what she does best – mixing it with the world’s best exponents of the five disciplines of swimming, fencing, riding and Laser Run (running and shooting).
“I’m looking forward to getting back to competitions as it’s been over a year,” said the 30-year-old from Meath.
“I’m physically in a really good place. It’s been great to train so consistently for the past while. I would have liked to get away for a camp to access some different fencing but this is the COVID world we live in. It’ll be nice to get the first competition nerves out of the way soon and look towards August.
“I just need to get back into the competition mindset, get used to the nerves, stresses and excitement of a competition again. I want to see where each of my events is and where I need to finetune coming towards Tokyo.”
There is a palpable sense of relief in the Irish pentathlon camp ahead of the restart in Budapest, and Coyle was full of gratitude for the various parties who have supported her during the longest competitive break of her career.
She said: “I’m very lucky the Irish Sports Council have been supporting us so well during COVID and before. I’m also fortunate to have great sponsors like Indeed and Liberty Insurance backing me. Having access to facilities over the past year has been unmeasurable so a massive thank you to the Irish Government for that.
“I’m really just looking forward to toeing the line again. It’s a bit nerve-wracking travelling with COVID still prevalent but I’m just excited to start!”
Brassil, who sits 42nd in the Pentathlon World Ranking and 34th in the Olympic Games Ranking, needs to score consistently this season to join her team-mate on the start line in Tokyo – it would be a historic first for Irish pentathlon to have two qualifiers of the same gender.
With two more World Cups coming up in Sofia in April, followed by a World Cup Final back in Hungary and a World Championships in Cairo in June, opportunity knocks but Brassil knows there will be dozens of athletes targeting the same seven or eight remaining places.
“After the first World Cup I’ll go directly to Bulgaria for the next two World Cups,” said the 27-year-old from Galway. “They are all within the space of a month, so it doesn’t make sense to travel home in between competitions, especially with all the travel restrictions.
“My main focus will be on getting enough ranking points in the upcoming competitions. I already have two results from Europeans 2019 and the only World Cup of 2020, so I will be looking to add to these results in the coming weeks. At the end of the qualification period, my best three results will count towards my ranking.
“It has always been a dream of mine to represent Ireland on the highest sporting stage. If I could realise that dream, especially after the year everyone has had, it would mean so much.”
Brassil also paid tribute to the support network that has kept her on course physically, mentally and financially during the hiatus.
“It has been a long year without any competitions and I have really missed getting to compete and perform. I have worked very hard all year and I’m feeling excited and grateful to get back to doing what I love,” she said.
“I’ve been very fortunate to have support from Sport Ireland for the last number of years. I’m also very grateful to be supported by the FBD Make A Difference programme, which supports Irish athletes who are working towards their Olympic goals. This has been a huge help.
“My family and friends have been a massive support over the last 12 months, even if I haven’t gotten to see many of them since the start of the pandemic.
“I have gotten so much help and support from my coaches, physio, nutritionist and psychologists over the past few months. It has been a real team effort to get me this far, so I can’t wait to do them all proud in the coming months.
“I’m really just looking forward to getting back to competing and doing what I love. I hope I can give my family and friends a bit of excitement and something to cheer for.”