Q&A with Olympian Natalya Coyle

Natalya Coyle single-handedly brought Modern Pentathlon to the nation’s attention at London 2012. A complete outsider, Natalya finished in the top 10 of this 5- sport discipline. Born and raised in Co Meath she is looking to build on this result when she heads to the Olympic Games in Rio this summer. I was fortunate enough to get the chance to ask her some questions ahead of this summer’s games.

The obvious question first – how did you get involved in pentathlon?

  • I started out in the Meath pony club doing Tethrathlon (running, swimming, shooting & horse-riding). This was just really for fun and a summer thing that got more serious as the years went along.

The event:

The pentathlon is truly a testing event, how do you train for the five disciplines without neglecting one?

  • We have a really great system now in Pentathlon as we liaise with the Institute of Sport. So, our training is spread across the week correctly to enable us to get the most out of each session & recover for the next training or session.

What discipline do you find the hardest when competing?

  • Fencing is a very difficult event as it is very mental as well as physical. The day and end result hinges on how well the fencing goes. This can be a lot of pressure!

I believe the ideal time for the shooting is 12 seconds, how do you steady yourself after completing an 800m run to shoot a target 5 times in such a short space of time?

  • It’s a matter of repetition repetition in training. The idea is it should become second nature! I generally try not to breathe as I take each shot in order to be as still as I can.

Do you find it difficult to work with a random horse in the jumping section or does your training cover this?

  • It is always a luck of the draw but we can practice on different horse and try to build up confidence!

Representing your country is an honour very few people get to experience. Do you feel under pressure to do well at events or do you put nerves to one side and just focus on the event?

  • I generally try to live in the moment and take each event as it comes. It is a great honour to represent your country but for me this is best done by focusing on the task at hand and not running away with thoughts. Pentathlon is a 5 event competition so the day is long and ever changing.

What trait do you think is the most important for an Olympian? 

  • Perseverance. Not every training session is going to go right but you need to persevere and trust in the training.

You were just 21 when you competed at London 2012. Do you think being so young was and advantage or disadvantage and do you feel more prepared heading to Rio?

  • It was a huge experience and an eye opener. Negatively it made me push too hard the following year & burn out. But I learnt a lot from this and believe I have come back stronger than before.

Do you see pentathlon growing in Ireland? Right now it is a relatively unknown sport.

  • There are a lot of youths & tethratletes now so the sport is constantly growing. I am keen on getting any younger athletes into sport as there is a sport out there for everyone you just need to try.

Unfortunately the build up to Rio has been dominated by the Zika virus. Do you have any concerns ahead of the games?

  • We have a fantastic medical staff in the Institute of Sport & Olympic Council who have kept us fully informed. So I have no worries!
Natalya competing in London 2012.
Natalya competing in London 2012.

Away from the event:

How do you relax when training/during an event?

  • I try to read a book during the day or talk to my team mates in competition. In training I like to get coffee and chill out after.

Do you have any pre-event rituals?

  • I always text my physiologist (Kate Kirby) and past coach (Lindsey Weedon). And bring lots of coffee!!

What’s your favourite food?

  • Too hard!! I love food!! Especially eating out. I do love sweet potato fries!

Favourite crisp?

  • O’Donnells.

Best piece of advice you’ve been given?

  • That there’s no point winning medals if you have no-one to bring them home to. So remember your family & friends as they’ll be there on the good days & bad.

Sporting hero?

  • I have many within Ireland like Derval O’Rourke & my gym coach Martina McCarthy. But my dad would be my biggest inspiration.

Pet hates?

  • I get pretty grumpy when I’m hungry & I hate when training sessions start late.

It was fantastic to chat to Natalya who took time out of her busy schedule to answer these questions. I wish her the best of luck in her training ahead of the games; no doubt she will do us proud in Rio.

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