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Northern Ireland gymnast Rhys wins World Challenge Cup on pommel horse

By Jimmy Booker, Sportsbeat

A teenage gymnast from Newtownards, Co Down, has pulled off a remarkable victory over his idols at the World Challenge Cup n Croatia.

Seventeen year old Rhys McClenaghan triumphed in the pommel horse final of the competition to win his first senior World Challenge Cup gold. McClenaghan, who fought off seven other athletes in the final, said the win as his most impressive achievement to date.

To beat gymnasts who were his heroes growing up was a special and surreal moment in his fledgling career, he explained.

“It was amazing,” said the teenager, who benefits from being part of the SSE Next Generation programme. “I went out there to try and gain experience and be up there with the senior guys for the first year.

“It was my second World Cup of the year and to come away with the gold is pretty amazing. It shocked me a bit, but I did it and it’s awesome.

“For sure it’s the biggest achievement to date, because it’s a senior competition and I’m up against some of the best competitors in the world.

“The guys who I was competing against are my idols. Changing those people who I have watched on television since I was seven years old from my heroes to my rivals, that’s big for me.

"Even though I was a very young competitor, they have a lot of respect for me due to me doing a difficult routine.

“Age is only a number. Just because I’m half the age of some of them doesn’t mean I can’t have a difficult routine and execute it well.”

The gymnast is now setting his sights on September’s World Championship in Montreal as a stage he wants to dominate and make a name for himself at.

The key to this, he said, would be to keep focus on his routine

“The World Championships are the big aim for this year,” he said. “It’s my first one, and it would be great to go there and make a big name for myself in front of the world.

“My goals always stay the same, doing that one routine."

The World Cup Challenge win, Rhys said "adds confidence" top his performance.

"I’m going into the competition with my name known as one of the best pommel horse workers in the world.

“It’s a confidence booster but it doesn’t change my goals. I just want to do that routine as clean as I can.”

The Irish youngster has been part of the SSE Next Gen programme since 2015. The support and experiences he has received while on the scheme have played a big part in his success in the competition arena, he emphasised.

“It’s helped me so much in terms of gaining experience,” he said. “They took me to the World Championships in 2015 just to watch, and to demonstrate a pommel routine in front of a crowd.

“Doing that really helped me gain that experience at a world level that I’m at now.

“Two years ago I was demonstrating the routine, now I’m actually competing in the World Championships!”

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