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Gymnast Rhys McClenaghan claims Commonwealth gold for Northern Ireland

By Allan Preston

Gymnast Rhys McClenaghan is relishing the proudest moment of his life after taking home Northern Ireland's first gold medal of the 2018 Commonwealth Games.

A sensational pommel horse routine on Australia's Gold Coast saw him spin ahead of his sporting idol and the reigning Olympic champion, England's Max Whitlock, who finished with silver. Both scored 15.1 but the Bangor teenager had a higher execution level.

"I honestly have no words. The sensational feeling I have at the moment is unbelievable," the 18-year-old said.

While pulling off stunning displays like this in training, he said it was the first time he's ever achieved it under the glare of competition. "It goes to show that all the hours and dedication that I put into training paid off 100%," he added. "I'm not just here to take part, I'm here to win medals, win titles and beat Olympic champions."

Calling it the proudest moment of his life, the teenager shared an emotional embrace with his delighted parents.

"It's fantastic, we better not put tear stains on it," his mum Tracy joked as she proudly held her boy's gold medal. On Twitter, she later said: "I remember Rhys getting his first award from Dame Mary Peters along with a chocolate gold medal when he was about nine. He's turned it to the real thing."

The Mary Peters Trust added: "We are all really pleased for him. Chocolate to Gold and a lot of hard work in between."

Coach Luke Carson said he was unsurprised at the success.

"I knew he could do it, it was just about whether he could hold his nerve," he told the BBC. "He hasn't failed a routine for a large amount of time and that's a good indication of his physical preparation."

He said keeping his composure at just 18 was equally impressive, adding: "It's an X-factor thing, you have it or you don't."

Already looking forward to the Tokyo Olympics in two years' time, he said the success had been perfect preparation.

See Sport, pages 52&53

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