Irish gymnast who trained in back yard strikes gold
AN IRISH gymnast forced to train in his back garden after his coach was made redundant struck gold at the European Championships in Glasgow when he triumphed in the pommel horse event.
Rhys McClenaghan (19) executed a near flawless routine to claim the medal, becoming the first Irish gymnast to win a medal at the European games. He took the top spot in the face of top-class competition from both Olympic and World Champion Max Whitlock (Team Great Britain) and reigning European champion David Belyavski, of Russia.
Speaking after his victory, McClenaghan said he felt ‘pretty amazing’. “It was a dream come true for me competing against those guys in the final because as a kid I looked up to them.
“And to take the top spot, I can’t even fathom it – it’s incredible,” he said.
Earlier this year, the Co Down athlete won gold for Northern Ireland at the Commonwealth Games in Australia.
He had been training in Dublin in preparation for the European Championships after his coach Luke Carson was made redundant by the Rathgael Gymnastics Club in Bangor in June. Rathgael Gymnastics said that the club had “encountered significant financial challenges” in the last year after it let Mr Carson go. There had been concerns that the disruption to the athlete’s training programme could have cost him dearly in the run up to major events. For a time, the teenager had been training on a pommel horse in his mum’s back yard. He then received an offer to continue his training at a high-performance sports facility in Dublin. McClenaghan (inset, with girlfriend Rebecca Gilbert) said his achievements showed how quickly he was progressing in the sport and augured well for the Tokyo Olympics in 2020.
“I can make a new personal best within a couple of days, so what is still to come for the likes of Tokyo in 2020 is incredible,” he told RTÉ. “The crowd here was amazing, with such a good energy – I think I thrive off that.”