SHE WAS the final member of 'Team Ireland' into Olympic action yesterday yet Meath pentathlete Natalya Coyle kept her best until last and showed why she could yet become Ireland's version of Jessica Ennis.
The 21-year-old from Tara, who has only been representing Ireland at modern pentathlon for the last three years, stunned the Olympic field by finishing ninth at the end of her gruelling 11-hour event which involves five different sporting disciplines. Coyle's excellent performance wasn't completely out of the blue as she has reached the World Cup finals (top 36 globally) for the last two years and her 21st place in it last May had clinched her Olympic spot.
But it was still a remarkable result and the best ever for the young Trinity student, played out over a hectic day across three different Olympic venues.
"This is hard to believe, four years ago I never dreamt I could even be in the Olympics!" the delighted sporting multi-tasker said.
"I started the day ranked somewhere like 28th or 29th but to have personal bests and season's bests and then finish ninth, I can't really get my head around it.
"For some reason I wasn't at all nervous, I was really calm the whole day," she revealed, despite having had to wait to compete until the final day of the Games.
"It has been a long wait but hopefully I've made everyone in Ireland proud and seen out the Games with a bang," she said.
Coyle had already made history just becoming the first Irish athlete to qualify for Olympic pentathlon.
She started out on the pony club circuit and learning the new skill of fencing presented the former Kings Hospital student with her biggest challenge.
She has to go abroad regularly for suitable fencing sparring, but all her practice paid off yesterday when she finished that opening event in a five-way tie for 11th, including Britain's world champion Mhairi Spence who eventually finished 21st.
From there it was onto the Aquatic Centre where Coyle's lifetime best 200m freestyle swim (2:19.17) was 20th fastest and left her 15th overall.
Then it was down to Greenwich for the showjumping on an unfamiliar horse and her brilliant round, with just two fences down, finished fifth.
That moved her into 11th place overall ahead of the difficult last 'combined' element where the athletes have to run 3,000m and shoot at targets with a laser gun after every 1,000m and she made up two more places.
Coyle was already a poster girl for her sport but her success will be a huge boost to Pentathlon Ireland who are already recruiting heavily from Ireland's pony club circuit.
Just 24 hours earlier, her team-mate Arthur Lanigan-O'Keeffe (20), a UCD student from Kilkenny who got a very late wild-card into the Olympics but is ranked seventh at world junior level, also exceeded expectations by finishing 25th in the men's event.
They've combined training with their studies and do most of it in a variety of venues around Dublin, including a shooting range set up for them at the Institute of Sport in Abbotstown which provides them with a lot of other support services.