In the dusty vaults of Trinity’s history, alumni are noted for their Nobel awards, their wealth of literature and politics, less so, for their sport. Although the paths of academia and sport rarely cross, Trinity has produced some fine athletes for a college so academically inclined. Bram Stoker, author of Dracula, was said to have excelled as an athlete during his time in Trinity, taking part in the ‘foot-races’ on College Park and was even named the athletics champion of the University. Among the roll call of Irish Olympians over the past 100 years, Trinity College can lay claim to over 50 of its own.
Upon the arrival of the Olympic year, Trinity News remembers two of Trinity’s own Olympians. One, an Olympic hopeful once again and one, a revolutionary icon of Irish women’s athletics.
Natalya Coyle (pictured above) is a past student of Trinity College, and an Olympian who competed in the London Olympics in 2012. Coyle was a student of Trinity College when she made her Olympic debut in 2012 and is now determined to compete at the 2016 Olympic Games to be held in Rio. Coyle competes in the Modern Pentathlon, an Olympic sport comprised of five events involving; fencing, 200 m freestyle swimming, equestrian show-jumping, and a combined biathlon of pistol shooting and a 3200m cross-country run. The Modern Pentathlon has been on the Olympic program since 1912 and a woman’s event was officially included in the year 2000.
Coyle was just 21, a Senior Freshman in Trinity College, when she made history as the first Irish woman to qualify for the Modern Pentathlon in the Olympic Games. Coyle competed at the London Olympics in 2012 where she finished a spectacular 9th place, her top ten finish exceeding all expectations. Coyle was one of the youngest competitors in London and had been placed 28th in the world rankings before the Olympics were held in August. Unbelievably, Coyle had only taken up the sport three years previously in her 5th year of school.
Now at 25, her sights are firmly set on Rio 2016 as she hopes to qualify for the Olympics once again. With four years more experience under her belt, Coyle is solely focused on the road to Rio this year. Competing in a multi event sport means training at a heightened sense of intensity yet also with plenty of diversity. With five different events to train for, no one day is the same. “In terms of training, I swim about four times a week, I run four or five times a week, gym twice a week, four shooting sessions and then horse riding and fencing three or four times a week,” says Coyle, her training totalling up to a Spartan 18 sessions per week and .
The qualification process for the Olympics in the Modern Pentathlon is based off an international ranking system. Hopefuls will compete internationally until May of this year when at that point, the athlete’s international ranking determines if they qualify for the Olympics or not. Thirty-six athletes in total will compete in the Modern Pentathlon at the Olympic Games. Natalya is hoping to compete in the upcoming World Cup Circuit, World Championships and World Cup final in her attempt to secure a place to the Olympics in Rio.
In a sport so gruelling and time consuming, it’s a wonder how Natalya juggled all the training and competing while studying BESS as a student here at Trinity. Coyle was a consistent recipient of the Sports Scholarship, awarded to Trinity students like Natalya Coyle with an outstanding ability in a particular sport. She accredits being able to continue her academic studies alongside her sporting career to the support given to her by Trinity College. “The sporting department are top notch and did a lot to help me,” says Natalya.
Natalya found time to compete for the University and was Intervarsity Tetrathlon Champion in 2009 and 2010. She was a captain of the Athletics club, DUHAC, here in Trinity for a year and also a recipient of the prestigious Pinks awarded. She was chosen to represent Trinity College as a torch bearer in the historic Olympic Torch Relay in Dublin, in June 2012, which happened to be held just after Natalya had qualified for the London Olympics herself. “I ran with the Olympic torch outside Trinity and that was a crowning moment on it all. It was a strange time as it’s mad, when you want something for so long and then you eventually get it, it can be a bit surreal.”
Natalya is one to watch out for in the race to qualify for Rio 2016.
This Olympic year of 2016 also celebrates the Diamond Jubilee of Ireland’s first female athlete to compete at an Olympic Games. Maeve Kyle (pictured above), a Trinity graduate in the 50’s and three time Olympian, paved the way for female athletes in a time where it was considered unseemly and almost dangerous for a woman to run. It’s been 60 years since Maeve Kyle competed in the Melbourne Olympics in 1956, making her mark on the history books as the first female Irish athlete to compete at an Olympic Games and later as Ireland’s first triple Olympian at the Tokyo Olympic Games in 1964.
With Kyle’s grandfather W.E. Thrift a former Provost of Trinity College Dublin (1937-1942), it was perhaps inevitable that Kyle would attend Trinity College and she graduated in 1950 with a degree in Natural Sciences, later completing a masters in 1977.
Kyle’s achievements in athletics were revolutionary as even during her time in Trinity there were no opportunities for female athletes. It wasn’t until 1965 that DUHAC – the athletics club in Trinity College would open its doors to women, becoming the second athletics club in Ireland to do so. Luckily, Maeve Kyle was a woman before her time.
“Ireland really was a dark place back then for any woman in any sport,” said Kyle. In 1950’s Ireland, when Kyle was picked for her first Olympics in 1956, the news of her selection was not well received by all. She faced critics such as the anonymous letters written to the Irish Times calling her “a disgrace to Irish motherhood and the Irish nation”. Her selection was deemed by one letter writer as “most unbecoming, unseemly and degrading of womenfolk” also stating that “a sports field is no place for a woman”. In preparation for the Olympics in Melbourne, Kyle had to endure verbal abuse and even had objects thrown at her while out training. She was seen by some to be off gallivanting in a foreign land, leaving behind a husband and a two year old daughter rather than being hailed as a pioneer of sport and Ireland’s first female sports star.
Kyle was not swayed by her critics however and backed by the support of her family, friends and the majority of her community she went on to compete in three Olympic Games, in 1956, 1960 and 1964. Maeve competed in the 100m and 200m at the Melbourne Olympic Games in 1956 and also qualified for the Rome Olympic Games in 1960, also competing in the 100m and 200m. She became Ireland’s first triple Olympian at the Tokyo Olympic Games in 1964 at age 36.
Her preferred distance was the 400m race but it came too late for Kyle. In the Melbourne and Rome Olympics the only events for women on the track were the 100m and the 200m. “They felt we would require resuscitation if we ran any further”, explained Kyle. By the Tokyo Olympics of 1964, the Olympic council had added two new events for women, the 400m and the 800m. Kyle competed in these two events and excelled in both, reaching the semi-finals of the 400m and the 800m. At her peak, Kyle was ranked amongst the fastest 400m runners in the world, winning the British Championships and setting a British record in the 400m.
An athletics suffragette, Maeve Kyle’s legacy lives on through the Irish sportswomen of today and though her celebrity is not synonymous with the likes of Sonia O’Sullivan or Katie Taylor, the greats of today acknowledge her significance in Irish sport. Katie Taylor views Kyle as the “trailblazer” and an “inspiration for Irish women in sport”. She was the first to pass through the newly opened door for Irish female athletes onto the international stage and deserves to be credited. “It was such an honour for me as an Irish woman. And it remains so today,” says Kyle.
In recent years, Maeve Kyle has been honoured for her role in sporting history and her continued dedication to sport as a coach for Ballymena & Antrim Athletics Club, which she co-founded with her coach and husband, Sean Kyle. Most recently, the 87 year old Trinity graduate was recognised by the International Olympic Committee for her outstanding contribution to promoting women in and through sport receiving the “Women and Sport Achievement Diploma” signed by the IOC President Thomas Bach. Her name was honoured by Trinity College in 2010 when she was inaugurated into the DUCAC (Trinity College) Hall of Fame.