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My Commonwealth Games gold is for my proud parents: Rhys McClenaghan

 

By Steven Beacom

Rhys McClenaghan caught a glimpse of his parents in the Gold Coast Arena.

The teenager from Northern Ireland had just created the shock of the 2018 Commonwealth Games by beating Olympic champion Max Whitlock in the pommel horse final. Then came the moment when he saw the joy on the faces of his mum and dad and a monumental feeling of pride and emotion surged through his veins.

Mature beyond his 18 years, McClenaghan thought about all the sacrifices Tracy and Danny had made in order for their boy to reach this point.

In the greatest sporting moment of his life, so far, the young gymnast from Newtownards decided to dedicate the gold medal to those who had helped him most.

"I hadn't seen my mum and dad before my routine or even for a short time afterwards but the moment when I knew I had won the gold medal I saw them and they were looking so proud it made me feel emotional and prouder than I've ever been before because I knew how much it meant to them," McClenaghan told the Belfast Telegraph.

"I wouldn't be here without my parents because of the sacrifices they have made taking me to training, competitions and everything else.

"I really couldn't have done it without them and that's why I dedicated my gold medal to my mum and dad."

McClenaghan, a member of the Rathgael club in Bangor, took up the sport when he was seven. Mum Tracy remembers her son doing somersaults in the house before then so gymnastics seemed a natural fit.

At nine, he began receiving support from the Mary Peters Trust. Tracy remembers: "Mary gave him a chocolate medal with his first monetary award and now he has turned it into gold."

His progression has been swift, indeed. In 2016 Rhys won a bronze medal in the British Championships pommel final and claimed silver the same year in the same event for Ireland at the Junior European Championships.

Winning at the Commonwealth Games in Australia, however, is his finest victory yet.

It was a first gold medal for Team Northern Ireland on the Gold Coast and a first gold medal at an Australian Games for a competitor from this part of the world.

McClenaghan and England's Whitlock, a World and Olympic champion in the pommel horse discipline, both finished with scores of 15.100 but the teenager claimed the glory thanks to a better execution.

"I felt going into the final that I could contend with Max and it was a matter of delivering on the routine and thankfully I pulled it off on the day," said McClenaghan, who has an older brother Elliot.

"Max has been an inspirational figure to me and he still is because he is a double Olympic champion. He was disappointed not to win but congratulated me on my gold.

"What this proves to me is that I can be up there with the best and that now I'm a force to be reckoned with.

"When I received the gold medal on the podium I don't think it had sunk in. It was surreal even though it was a moment that I thought about for so long. Winning a gold medal is something that I had dreamt about and all of a sudden it was real life.

"I see this as a milestone in my career and a new chapter. It will give me more confidence going into different finals in the future."

Competing in World Championship finals and the Olympics await but for the rest of his time in Australia, McClenaghan is keen to support Team NI athletes in different sports.

Mum Tracy said: "My husband Danny and I were cheering Rhys on and we are so proud of how well he did.

"We hoped for a medal and I felt confident that someday Rhys would be Commonwealth Champion, but can't believe he's done it already at the age of 18 and by beating the current Commonwealth and World Champion!

"It was so special moment to be there in the arena. Rhys and his coach Luke Carson walked out with an air of confidence and I just knew we were about to see something special.

"Rhys performed a more difficult routine than he did in qualification. He could have just gone for a medal but he went out there for gold. That was very gutsy for an 18-year- old. We are super proud."

Team NI Commonwealth Games Chief Executive Conal Heatley added: "Rhys winning gold is such a fantastic result for everyone. He received a great welcome from team members back at the village and this can inspire our team for the rest of the Games.

"We always talk about our bowlers, boxers and shooters as having a chance of medals but with Rhys winning a gymnastics gold it expands our range.

"We wanted more of our sports to challenge and Rhys has certainly delivered, mixing it with the best in the world."

Belfast Telegraph

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