Triple Olympian Natalya Coyle ready to ‘get the job done’ at Tokyo 2020
What started out as a dream has become a reality three times for Ireland’s Natalya Coyle.
And with every passing Olympic cycle, she has grown more comfortable with life as an elite pentathlete, carrying the hopes of a nation into the world’s biggest sporting event.
So much so that the 30-year-old from Meath heads into her third Olympic Modern Pentathlon with a steely determination to, in her own words, “get the job done”.
There are many reasons why Coyle is taking this hard-headed approach to the rescheduled Tokyo 2020 Games, where she competes over the next two days.
There is the adversity thrust upon her by COVID-19 and the 12-month postponement of the Games – which ultimately contributed to her fiancé Arthur Lanigan-O’Keeffe missing out on a third Olympics due to injury.
There is the confidence that she has in her own performance levels, topped up by a 5th place at the UIPM 2021 Pentathlon World Cup Final and a highly successful Team Ireland preparatory camp in Fukuroi.
There is also the acknowledgment from Coyle that this is an Olympic Games like no other, missing the “razzmatazz” that she encountered in London and Rio when there was a carnival atmosphere and she had friends and family in the crowd roaring her on.
On the eve of the start of the women’s competition (5 August), Coyle, who finished 9th in 2012 and 6th in 2016, said: “I think my relationship with the Olympics has definitely changed. It’s been great for me to see the passion of other teams – like when the hockey girls qualified. That really reminds you of that original love for it.
“For me now, I think it’s really exciting and a great honour but I also see it more pragmatically – there’s a job to be done. And especially in this Covid era, it’s kinda weird – there is a job to be done and Covid has gotten rid of all the razzmatazz of the Olympics anyway.
“I think this time round, for me, I feel there’s a job that I can do and that’s the way I look at it.
“I still love it, and I’m really excited to watch everything, but I’ve gone to my third Games now and when I think back to my first one, I just wanted to qualify and I was so excited. This time, even before I did my qualifiers I was thinking ‘oh, I’m going to qualify, there’s a different job to be done’.
“I still love it as much as I did the first time, but it’s just a different kind of feeling.”
Some pentathletes acknowledge a weakness in one discipline and make up for it by excelling in another, and this can lead to over-compensating in training.
Coyle tends to take a balanced view to the five disciplines – swimming, fencing, riding, running and laser shooting – although her focus on fencing in camp indicates the importance of scoring on the piste, where medals can be won and lost. She had five fencing sparring partners in Fukuroi, including Irish pentathletes Tom O’Brien and Isobel Radford Dodd.
Coyle reflected: “I think my fencing has come on an awful lot, and that’s put me in good positions for the end of the day. I’ve a really good fencing coach, Andrei Fedotov, and he kind of inspires a lot of confidence in me.
“Before London and Rio where I had really, really good Olympic performances, I really hadn’t the same standard of performance in other events throughout the year.
“They were really good showcases and I’m delighted how they went, but they were a bit isolated. This time round, coming into these Games, I have a string of medals and then in my last competition I came fifth in the World Cup Final.
“I’ve steadily been getting more consistent and better across the years, so I definitely think I can get better each Games. I’ve been in medal positions multiple times now, so I don’t get as nervous as I used to.”
While firmly focused on peak performance on the other side of the world, Coyle was still keeping half an eye on the future of Irish pentathlon during a prep camp that she said was as good as any she had attended.
She reflected: “Nancy Chillingworth organised the camp and it was incredible – the logistics involved in this Games is out of this world and Team Ireland have really gone above and beyond to help every athlete. I was able to come as prepared as possible to the camp and then into the village afterwards, it was amazing.
“I had my fencing coach with me, which was great, and Martina McCarthy is our Performance Director so I was really surrounded by training partners. It was nice to see other Team Ireland athletes as well, even though you were going round in masks trying to figure out who’s who!
“The other two pentathletes in camp were Tom O’Brien and Isabelle Radford-Dodd, who is a young junior athlete and it was important for her to see a Games like this, it will inspire her for the future.
“I think it’s a tough sport to do. The amount of training you have to put in is a huge amount – it’s three or four sessions every day and that’s tough.
“Hopefully pentathlon can continue on getting stronger in Ireland, because it would be nice to see after all the work we’ve put in. Unfortunately I don’t have my crystal ball, but we do have some good youth athletes coming up and hopefully that can just keeping getting better.”
Competition schedule (all times Irish)
Thursday, August 5
5am-8.30am: Fencing Ranking Round
Friday, August 6
7.45am: Fencing Bonus Round
11.30am: Laser Run