Rhys McClenaghan has hailed his pommel horse Commonwealth Games gold medal as “the most proud moment” of his life.
The Bangor-based gymnast pulled off a shock victory over England’s Max Whitlock to clinch Northern Ireland’s first medal of the games in Australia at the weekend.
“I honestly have no words,” the 18-year-old said immediately after his triumph.
“The sensational feeling I have at the minute is unbelievable.”
Asked if he had ever performed to that standard before, the newly crowned Commonwealth champion said: “In training, not in competition, but it goes to show that all of the hours and dedication I’ve put into training has paid off 100%.
“I am not just here to take part. I am here to win medals, win titles and beat Olympic champions.”
Rathgael Gymnastics Club couldn’t wait to join the celebrations.
Soon after the result was announced, a message on the club’s Facebook said: What a day for Northern Ireland! Our very own Rhys McClenaghan has won gold at the Commonwealth Games Pommel Final in the early hours of this morning! We are beyond words, what a tremendous achievement winning over an Olympic medalist! We are all so proud of you Rhys!”
Proud parents Danny and Tracy were on Australia’s Gold Coast and got to celebrate with their son.
Tracy said: “It’s just unbelievable ... he did it! We knew he could do it and he did.”
News of our latest sporting hero spread fast and prompted the Northern Ireland Office to tweet: “An incredible performance from @McClenaghanRhys to beat double Olympic champion Max Whitlock and win GOLD on the pommel horse! That is @GoTeamNI’s first medal of @GC2018 and first ever Commonwealth Games artistic gymnastics medal. What a routine!”
Fellow Commonwealth gold medalist Paddy Barnes also tweeted his congratulations to the latest golden boy, prompting Rhys to respond: “Thanks Paddy! Means a lot coming from a man with as much success as you.”
As well as thanking the many well-wishers, Rhys send a warning to his main rival: “Coming for that World title next Max...”