Ir­ish gym­nast who trained in back yard strikes gold

Irish Independent - - News - Steven Alexan­der

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.”

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