Natalya Coyle has become the first Irish athlete to qualify for the Olympics in Modern Pentathlon as confirmed by the Union International de Pentathlon Modern (UIPM) today. “To qualify for the Olympics really is a dream come true. I’ve worked so hard to get there and now I’m excited to get a good block of training done in the run up to the competition” stated Coyle. Coyle’s wait for her moment to shine will be longer than most other Irish athletes as the women’s Modern Pentathlon medals will be the last ones awarded in the London 2012 Olympic Games on Sunday 12th August. The 21-year-old Meath athlete who only started competing in the sport on an international level in 2009 will compete in Modern Pentathlon’s centenary Olympic competition in London 2012; “Natalya’s qualification is not only a result of all her hard work and dedication but it’s been a massive team effort. Our High Performance Programme only began in 2010 and to have made such phenomenal progress in just two years is testament to all those who have helped us out along the way” says Performance Director Lindsey Weedon.
Coyle began her qualification campaign back in August 2011 with an excellent 20th place finish at World Cup Final in London, which also doubled as the Olympic Test Event. “The World Cup Final last year seems so long ago but it’s great to know that I’ll be heading back to the Olympic Park and Greenwich to compete in the real thing” stated Coyle. Her qualification hopes were boosted in May of this year when she finished 10th at a World Cup competition and then 21st in the World Cup Final in China three weeks ago. After a year long qualification campaign, travelling to all corners of the globe, Coyle is relieved that her position is now finally confirmed. “It’s definitely been a very long year and I’m so happy to have come out of it in a qualification position” she said.
Ireland do previously appear in the Olympic record books for modern pentathlon as Jerome Hartigan, Sackville Currie and Mark Hartigan contested the 1980 Moscow Olympics after the boycott of the Games by the American team, but the country was not represented again at International level until Pentathlon Ireland was established in 2003. Coyle’s achievement sees her enter the history books as the first Irish female athlete to compete in the Olympic Games for Modern Pentathlon and also the first Irish athlete to qualify for the Games outright. Coyle, the first of a new era of Irish athletes to make the standard, believes that she won’t be the last. “Arthur Lanigan-O’Keeffe only just missed out on qualification this time round and I’m absolutely sure that Arthur, Eanna Bailey, and I will all be heading to Rio come 2016.” A belief that is shared by Weedon: “This group of athletes, and the talent that we have coming up behind them, are very, very young as pentathlon is generally a more mature sport, so I’m really excited about what we can achieve in the future.”
Coyle’s individual achievement represents a much broader team effort which she is keen to acknowledge: “There are just so many people to thank who have been a part of this journey. All the members of Pentathlon Ireland, the High Performance coaches, the Irish Sports Council, the Irish Institute of Sport and their support staff and the Olympic Council of Ireland, the list is just endless. There are so many individuals too that I couldn’t have done this without, I’ll thank them personally, else your quote will be too long” she jokes. The support given to Pentathlon Ireland is a sentiment that’s reiterated by Weedon: “In November 2009, I went to the Irish Sports Council with an idea of how Ireland might be able to qualify athletes for London 2012 in Modern Pentathlon. I was worried I’d be laughed out the building, but they took my ideas on board and supported me along the way, each year helping me to develop the High Performance Programme. Natalya’s qualification is the tip of the iceberg, there’s a lot more behind her success; we had three athletes qualify for the recent World Cup Final in China which in itself is a phenomenal achievement given that it’s an Olympic year and all the top athletes are pushing for qualification for the Games.”
Coyle will be one of the youngest athletes on the start-line come the 12th August but this will not faze the Irish athlete: “I hadn’t really thought about being one of the youngest. I’m used to competing against most of the girls who will be in the competition, so it’s just another competition really. I guess in terms of the bigger picture I’m heading to London to gain experience for the next Olympic cycle and hope that I’ll be able to make my mark in Rio 2016”. Rio 2016 is also on the mind of Weedon: “It’s fantastic to acknowledge what has been achieved and Natalya’s qualification gives us an opportunity to reflect on how far we’ve come but this is only the start. Ireland do have a niche for our sport, with youngsters competing regularly in combinations of the events that make up pentathlon. With the Irish Pony Club being a proven pathway for athletes into our sport, Ireland really do have the potential to be a top nation in Modern Pentathlon and maybe as soon as 2016. To do this, though, we need to ensure the sustainability of what we have right now and look at the resources required to continue to evolve in the next four year cycle. Like all sports, we are reliant on the generosity of our volunteers, funding bodies and corporate partners to make this happen.” So come August, let’s hope what is a fairy-tale story for Coyle will become something that can be built on as a legacy for the sport of Modern Pentathlon in Ireland.