For a country in which many of us struggle to do forward rolls, Northern Ireland should not really be disappointed when one of our gymnasts claims a silver medal in the Commonwealth Games, but then Rhys McClenaghan has set the bar high.
The world class performer from Newtownards came to Birmingham with one colour on his mind and belief that he would deliver gold again, just as he did on the Gold Coast in Australia four years ago, yet in what turned out to be a two-pommel horse race with Joe Fraser it was the Englishman who produced the knockout performance.
Ultimately, McClenaghan, who did not have a clean routine, had to settle for second spot on the podium rather than being presented with his prize feeling on top of the world.
He was proud to deliver another Commonwealth Games medal for Northern Ireland but there was no hiding his disappointment that he felt he could and should have done better.
McClenaghan’s not one for excuses and didn’t throw out any as he conducted countless media interviews following the pommel horse competition in the atmospheric Arena Birmingham.
Northern Ireland is right to see the 23-year-old as a sporting superstar because he challenges at the very highest level in his chosen field. Across the gymnastics world, McClenaghan is also big news.
Of course, that’s down to his awesome ability, but people love to hear from sports stars who speak with conviction and honesty and McClenaghan does it better than most.
With all that rolled into one it’s clear why he is an inspiring figure in his sport, motivating children to hit the gym and get on a horse - pommel that is.
It was John Lennon who said ‘Before Elvis there was nothing’ when talking about music. Let’s be honest, before Rhys it was the same where world class gymnasts from Northern Ireland were concerned.
Others have looked at what he has done on the global stage, like winning the Commonwealth Games and European Championships as a teenager in 2018 and claiming bronze the next year at the World Championships, and thought they could follow in his footsteps — people like Eamon Montgomery and Ewan McAteer who, in Birmingham, have qualified for the finals of the Floor and Vault disciplines respectively. Such a prospect was unthinkable a decade ago. Call it the McClenaghan effect.
To think that back in May all three had been told they weren’t going to be allowed to go to the 2022 Games after the International Gymnastics Federation (FIG) sparked outrage when they ruled that the trio could not represent Northern Ireland in Birmingham because they had represented Ireland in international competition.
It was one of the most appalling decisions in the history of sport and showed a distinct lack of awareness and understanding of the ‘Northern Ireland situation’, and that the gymnastics authorities couldn’t give a FIG about what goes on in our wee country.
Thankfully, for once, everyone came together, including politicians (yes, that really did happen), following McClenaghan’s lead to criticise the decision, and the FIG’s initial ruling was changed in May allowing the lads to compete.
McClenaghan woke up yesterday morning confident he could triumph. Hometown hero Fraser, who had his appendix out six weeks ago and broke his foot after that, didn’t put a hand wrong in scoring 14.833.
The Northern Ireland man was next. All was going well until a crucial error and from there the game for gold was up.
McClenaghan shook his head after dismounting, well aware that the title he won so brilliantly Down Under was gone. He scored 14.113 when he wanted to hit the 15 mark. Those are the high standards he expects. Us too now after all his achievements.
Rhys didn’t reach them this time but will aim to put that right in the European and World Championships later this year. He’ll get back on the horse... and hopefully ride to more glory then.