gold medal | 

World champ Rhys McClenaghan has revealed his pride at opening the door for a new generation of gymnasts

Rhys also said he’d be celebrating this week pizza and beer.

5 November 2022; Rhys McClenaghan of Ireland after winning a gold medal in the Men's Pommel Horse Final during the World Artistic Gymnastics Championships 2022 at The M&S Bank Arena in Liverpool, England. Photo by Sportsfile© SPORTSFILE

Sunday World

Superstar Rhys McClenaghan has revealed his pride at opening the door for a new generation of gymnasts – and how’s he’s relaxing this week at home with a pizza and beer.

And the gold medal winner has paid tribute to parents Tracy and Danny who found the right sport for him at just six and set him on the road to becoming world champion.

The 23-year-old is back home in Newtownards enjoying some pizza, beer and downtime with his pals after his winning routine on the pommel horse at the World Championships in Liverpool put him in the history books as the first Irish gymnast to take gold.

The day after his win he had his first beer in months and he’s giving himself a two-week break to see his friends.

“I’m letting myself go for a couple of weeks. I feel like it’s important for me to be human and go out with friends and socialise.

“It’s important for your mind so I’ll eat a pizza and spend time with my family too who were over in Liverpool watching me.”

He says the win was for him, his family and the young athletes who know now that anything is possible.

“It makes me incredibly proud that from small beginnings there are hopefully going to be some very big beginnings for others,” says Rhys.

“I hope I can not only inspire young athletes, but they will beat my achievements.”

He was flooded with relief when his feet hit the mat last weekend after a flawless routine and knew immediately that a gold medal was within his grasp.

After winning a silver at the Commonwealth games in Birmingham in August and missing out on the final of the European Championships, Rhys and trainer Luke Carson had changed elements of his routine and it helped him make history.

“We switched it a bit after the Euros and Commonwealth, and this year my body has been injury free which shows my preparations have gone well.

“When I finished it was a feeling of relief that I went through that routine that I’d been training, and got my job done, and put my bid in for the world title,” he says.

The sportsman, who received congratulations from sponsor Jimmy Nesbitt following his win, has had more than his fair share of setbacks during his career but says they’ve made him mentally stronger.

When coach Luke was made redundant from Rathgael Gymnastics Club in 2018 two weeks before the World Cup in Turkey, Rhys left with him. He trained on an old pommel horse in the family’s back garden and went on to win in Turkey.

He was offered support by Gymnastics Ireland and Sport Ireland and is still based at their training facilities in Dublin.

He won gold for Northern Ireland at the Commonwealth Games in 2018, beating Olympic champion Max Whitlock, and another gold at the European Championships as well as bronze at the 2019 Worlds.

Just months after the move to Dublin he had to have surgery for a shoulder injury which put him out of action for months, the longest time he’d had away from training since the age of eight.

In July last year Rhys became the first Irish athlete to qualify for the Olympic final and came seventh from a field of eight after a heart-stopping stumble from the horse.

“I was very disappointed, but it was important that I felt that disappointment and swapped it to motivation. It’s taking the victories where I can,” he says.

“I think of the qualification routine at the Olympics when I made history by qualifying. There are so many positives.

“I made sure the disappointment didn’t hit me too hard.

“In any sport it’s a rite of passage to fail over and over again and come back stronger and that’s what I demonstrated.

“You can’t find one mindset and stick with it so it’s a constant learning process.

“Just being involved in sport at this level it puts you in very difficult situations and tests you every day. You have to be able to hold your own.”

He faced a setback again earlier this year when the International Gymnastics Federation (FIG) said Rhys and two fellow Northern Ireland gymnasts couldn’t compete at the Commonwealth Games because they had represented Ireland at international events.

The decision led to an outcry and the FIG was accused of ignoring the terms of the Good Friday Agreement before it relented and allowed the trio to compete.

For Rhys the focus now is on the future and starting the process of qualifying for the Olympics in 2024 in Paris.

“It’s no easy task. You still need to be one of the best in the world to qualify,” he says.

He says the support of his parents – who have been by his side from the very start – has been an important part of his success.

“I’ve been doing gymnastics from six, but they always say I was doing it before I officially started, teaching myself how to do backflips on the trampoline,” says Rhys.

“My parents saw that and took me to the sport that worked for me.

“I’ve always had their support and they made sure I enjoyed it.

“If I came out of training crying or injured, they made sure I was still enjoying it, and that rubbed off on me,” says the world champion.

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