TV View: Coyle loses out in horsey roulette as Constantin proves a busted flush

Irish pentathlete not the only one to see her dream of an Olympic medal disappear

Constantin refuses a fence as Ireland’s Natalya Coyle competes in the showjumping section of the Modern Pentathlon at the Tokyo Stadium. Photograph: Bryan Keane/Inpho

Tom Freyne spoke for the nation after Constantin banjaxed Natalya Coyle's medal hopes in the modern pentathlon. He is, he told us, "a tramp of a horse".

And as an army man, Tom had the sound of a fella who wanted that tramp court martialed and, well, you know.

Long before Natalya entered the ring, lying in fourth overall after the swimming and fencing and looking in mighty shape, Tom had a sense of foreboding, the behaviour of several of the horses leaving him fearful that her mount would have as much intention of co-operating as he would of, say, going skateboarding. Indeed, he displayed an uncanny ability to take one look at a horse as it arrived on the scene and know that there was an attitude issue, if it was about to act the maggot.

Egyptian Amira Kandil, for example, struggled from start to finish to control Pecora, racking up 50 faults by the end of her round. "And he doesn't seem too bothered by it," said Tom, "he hasn't got much of a conscience, that fella".


Hugh Forde, RTÉ's modern pentathlon expert, had been worried too, reminding us before we kicked off that the competitors don't have their own horses, they're just paired with ones they most possibly have never even met before. "Natalya will only have 20 minutes to familiarise herself with her horse," he told us, which to us non-experts sounded a little like marrying someone after a 20-minute date.

Anna Maliszewska’s date with Discastino clearly hadn’t gone well, most of it probably peppered with awkward silences, the pair discovering they had nothing in common. It showed when they went jumping together, “he looks like he’s just paddling through treacle,” said Tom, the Polish woman ending up with 66 faults. Not a hint of remorse from that horse either, having ploughed through the bulk of the fences. “He’s pricked his ears, he’s a cheeky old bugger,” said a disgusted Tom, “he’s happy, he wants to go back to the stable and eat some hay”.

By now the competition was beginning to resemble Buckaroo and we were left wondering if these horses had actually seen fences before, never mind jumped any. Tom was wondering the same. “These old boys, they’re like, ‘right, come on, I’m at the gate, let me outta here, I want to go back to the stable’.” Like Elena Cheli’s partner Cristabal who walked through a fence, chucked her off his back and headed for home. “He threw in the towel,” Tom sighed.

Not all the horses were good-for-nothings, Tom impressed by Kate French's Clntino, for example – "He's really a rear-wheel-drive job, which is what you want for this" – but it was when Uzbekistan's Alise Fakhrutdinova had a total mare, so to speak, with hers, which left the course looking like a demolition site, that his nerves were shredded – because the culprit was Constantin, who would have Natalya on board for his next appearance.

Tom trusted, though, that because Natalya is “a real horsewoman” that Constantin would behave, and the round did start promisingly. “This horse looks happy, we’re in business here, I think,” he said, and with that Constantin sent a fence in to the middle of next week.

Then there was a refusal. And then another. And Natalya’s medal hopes were in tatters. Constantin’s grandfather, incidentally, was called Contender, something Natalya had no chance of ever being when she was paired with his ne’er-do-well of a grandson.

“This tramp knows where the stables are,” said Tom, “he’s just a horrible boy.” No conscience either, him trotting out of the arena without a care in the world, his face kind of saying ‘where’s me carrots?’.

While Natalya fell from fourth to 19th, that wasn't even the worst of the day's misfortunes, Germany's Annika Schleu dropping from first, and a near certain gold, to 31st after Saint Boy wasn't having any of it. "He's not living up to his name, he's far from a saint," said Tom.

It was all, frankly, bonkers. Super-skilled fencers, swimmers, runners and shooters with their horsey fate left on a roulette wheel.

Every four (or, this time, five) years, us know-nothings end up heading to Wikipedia for an explanation of this lottery. “Pierre de Coubertin created the contest to simulate the experience of a 19th-century cavalry soldier behind enemy lines”, among his challenges to “ride an unfamiliar horse”.

If that cavalry soldier was riding Constantin, he’d have been marooned behind enemy lines til the end of his days. Tramp.