Tokyo 2020: Natalya Coyle ready to begin her pentathlon quest with all guns blazing

Experienced Meath athlete brings a wealth of experience to this her third Games

Travelling internationally with guns in your luggage is quite the high for the stress junkie.

For Natalya Coyle, who today begins her third Olympic Games in the Modern Pentathlon, it is not out of a predilection for airport hassle. Her five disciplines are cross country running, freestyle swimming, show jumping, epee fencing and pistol shooting.

Japan customs appeared befuddled when Coyle arrived in Tokyo packing two pistols.

“I have two guns with me as back-up, and one of them got through fine and then the other one didn’t get through so fine, and the police were called,” says Coyle.


That the modern day pistols are lasers and do not fire bullets was no small consideration. The futuristic firearms made their Olympic debut in the 2012 London Olympics. They are safer and have changed the competition by allowing organisers incorporate the running and shooting disciplines in a combined event

“There was a bit of humming and hawing about it and it took a while. It’s always about how long it takes, not so much about whether it will get through. And I suppose I didn’t really understand the chain of authority in Japan,” she says.

“We would normally be a bit more vocal about things but I know that doesn’t work here, so you’re just going to have to wait.”

Coyle has fine Olympic pedigree, coming ninth in the 2012 Games and sixth in Rio. This time her pathway to Tokyo has been by medaling in events and picking up a fifth in the World Cup finals.

She should have been in Tokyo with her partner Arthur Lanigan O’Keefe, who is also a Modern Pentathlon athlete but was too injured to travel.

“It’s a bit weird not having him here,” says Coyle. “We’ve both been to two Games before and if we hadn’t done that, he might have taken a different decision.”

She agrees that after three Olympics Games she does not see Tokyo through the same eyes that she saw London 2012. The love for the sport hasn’t gone away. But some of the vulnerabilities and frustrations she felt in the early days are no longer there. There is no fear in finding herself ahead and suffering an attack of vertigo. That just doesn’t happen any longer.

Great honour

“I think it definitely has changed,” she says. “It was 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. All the razzmatazz of the Olympics has been gotten rid of by Covid anyway.”

The events will take place over two days in Musashino Forest Sports Plazza and Ajinomoto Stadium with 36 athletes involved.

First up are fencing, swimming and show jumping with the laser-run taking place on day two. They are given horses so there is an in-built lottery aspect to that. Coyle is ambitious but she is also a pragmatist and, at 30-years-old, wise to the ways of the sport.

“So the boring answer is always that I will do my best. For me it would be a personal best in every single [discipline] because I know if I can do that in every single one, that would lead to a medal.

“I definitely think I’m in shape to do that in swimming, running and fencing – and it’s just that thing of hopefully getting a good horse and getting around.”

Johnny Watterson

Johnny Watterson

Johnny Watterson is a sports writer with The Irish Times