Northern Ireland gymnast Rhys McClenaghan clears first hurdle to represent Team NI, now he’s set on Commonwealth Games gold after Tokyo Olympics slip

Having won his battle to compete at the Commonwealth Games, Team NI’s Rhys McClenaghan is hoping to become the first gymnast to bring home two gold medals for his country.

By Graeme Cousins
Thursday, 28th July 2022, 6:02 pm

The 23-year-old – and teammates Eamon Montgomery and Ewan McAteer – were banned for being licensed to compete internationally for Ireland before the controversial ruling was soon overturned.

The opening ceremony of the games takes place in Birmingham tonight and competition gets underway tomorrow with Rhys in action in the Artistic Men’s category.

Rhys won Commonwealth gold in Australia in 2018, but finished a disappointing seventh in his Olympic debut in Tokyo last year after slipping off the pommel horse while representing Ireland.

Northern Ireland's Rhys McClenaghan winning gold at the 2018 Commonwealth Games

He believes suffering that setback has intensified his appetite for success: “I’m way more motivated after that slip in Tokyo – it made me athlete I am today, more resilient and consistent.

“It hurt like hell, but I used that disappointment to push me on and I’m much more motivated and determined to get that gold medal now.

“I’m at a world-class level and every result I get is making history for the country.

“I’m hoping to make that again and be the first Northern Irish gymnast to bring home two gold medals for his country.”

Rhys McClenaghan represented Ireland during the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games, which took place in 2021

Rhys beat British Olympic champion Max Whitlock to Commonwealth gold in Australia in 2018 but the pair will not renew rivalries in the West Midlands.

Whitlock, 29, withdrew from the Games to focus on October’s World Championships in Liverpool to leave Rhys as one of the red-hot favourites to defend his Gold Coast crown.

Upon his return from the 2018 games, at which Rhys was Northern Ireland’s only gold medal winner, he was given a hero’s welcome in his home town of Newtownards.

When it seemed that he wouldn’t get the chance to defend his gold when the International Gymnastics Federation ruled he could not represent Northern Ireland after also representing Ireland (at events where does not take part), Rhys said: “It is devastating because it was one of, if not the, best days of my life representing my country at the Gold Coast and winning a gold medal and now I seemingly won’t get that opportunity.”

Ahead of the games Rhys said that Irish boxer Katie Taylor was a “huge inspiration”.

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