Belfast Telegraph

Another gold for Northern Ireland gymnast forced to train in his mum's back garden

By Staff Reporter

A gymnast from Newtownards forced to train in his back garden after his coach was made redundant won gold for Ireland in the pommel horse at the European Championships in Glasgow yesterday.

Rhys McClenaghan (19) executed a near flawless routine to claim the medal and become the first Irish gymnast to win a medal at the games.

And last night he was feeling on top of the world.

"Life is good! More to come people, believe me..." he tweeted to his 4,000 Twitter followers after becoming European champion with a personal best performance.

He took the honours in the face of top-class competition from both Team GB's Olympic and World champion Max Whitlock and reigning European champion David Belyavski of Russia.

Speaking after his victory, Rhys told RTE: "I feel pretty amazing. I just won the European Championships.

"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."

Earlier this year the Co Down teenager 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 laid off in June by Rathgael Gymnastics Club in Bangor. The club said it 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 Rhys 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 the Republic.

Ards councillor Stephen McIlveen tweeted that the council had been asked to light up the town hall in honour of the golden boy.

Rhys 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," Rhys told RTE.

"The crowd here was amazing, with such a good energy. I think I thrive off that.

"It's scary being out here on the big stage.

"However, I managed to keep my cool and do what I've done in training hundreds of times.

"I thrive off fear because I can use that to give me more energy in my routine and make it even more perfect.

"The score shows it and this medal shows it."

Rhys also paid tribute to his coach Luke, who has worked with the teenager since back in 2014.

He said: "He has done an incredible job training me.

"He's come all the way down to Dublin to train me for events like this.

"I couldn't thank him enough for what he has done," the gymnast added.

Belfast Telegraph

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