Ireland’s newest world champion performed a flawless routine on the pommel horse to secure a score of 15.3
Ireland’s newest world champion performed a flawless routine on the pommel horse to secure a score of 15.3 and take the title. He is the first Irish athlete to win a world title in gymnastics.
The 23-year-old has been Ireland’s leading gymnast since he competed at junior level.
A native of Newtownards in County Down, he won a bronze medal at the 2019 World Championships in Stuttgart in the same event.
Previously he won a gold medal at the 2018 Commonwealth Games in Gold Coast, Australia and was crowned European champion in 2018 as well.
Since then, he has experienced his share of disappointments
At the Tokyo Olympics he was a pole position to secure a medal after the qualifiers but a slip during his routine in the final saw him drop to seventh overall.
Then at the this summer’s Commonwealth Games in Birmingham he won a silver medal which was below expectations.
But it all came right this week at the World Championships in Liverpool.
He was the leading qualifier with an impressive score of 15.233 – the score is a combined one based on the difficulty of the routine and its execution.
Whereas the majority of his rivals failed to complete their routine without error a confident McClenaghan was error free.
This was reflected in his score of 8.9 (out of ten) for execution and he was awarded 6.4 for difficulty giving him a combined total of 15.3.
This put him into the gold medal position early in the final and he was never seriously challenged as none of the other finalists broke the 15-point barrier.
His relief at completing a difficult routine was obvious in the joy on his face when he came off the mat and was hugged by his coach, Luke Carson.
Immediately afterwards the new world champion was so emotional he was unable to speak in a TV interview. But he has achieved a lifetime ambition at the tender age of 23.
“This has been a long time coming,” he said. “It has been a difficult year but I’m glad I could finish it off with my greatest achievement ever.
“It’s something I’ve dreamed of for many years. I’ve dedicated my life to this sport and to be world champion makes it all worthwhile.
“It just proves to myself and many others I’m still capable of going there and winning Olympic gold, which is a very exciting thought.
“I know I can perform under this immense pressure and I can do the same in Paris.
“The extra turn on the dismount requires a bit of extra guts.
“I knew it would be a tough challenge but Stephen [Nedoroscik] matched my score in qualification and I didn’t want that to happen, so I upped the difficulty to make sure I could secure that gold medal.
“There were mistakes but that’s pommel horse. We’ve seen the amount of Olympic champions falling this week, these great names making mistakes – that’s gymnastics.
“I know that’s the way it can happen. It happened to me at the Olympic final. You just learn from them – if you don’t, you can’t go to the next competition and improve.
“That’s exactly what I’ve done. I’ve learned from all the mistakes I had and put them all into this routine.”
His long-term rival Max Whitlock also paid tribute, saying: “Increasing the difficulty by one-tenth was a great move and it paid off.
“It was an incredibly clean routine. When you do a high difficulty routine like that, you know you’ll come out with a big score.
“Rhys has done amazing job after a tricky year in terms of his consistency levels. He’s done brilliantly.”
McClenaghan’s success makes him the second Irish world champion in as many weekends following Katie Taylor’s latest successful title defence and he earmarked the boxer’s ruthless hunger as inspiration as he seeks to scale even greater heights.
“She is a huge inspiration, the greatest of all time,” he finished. “Why shouldn’t I aspire to be the greatest of all time on the pommel horse?
“That’s the benefit of having role models like Katie Taylor. I look up to her a huge amount.”