Rhys McClenaghan: Olympic medal on NI gymnast's radar

Northern Ireland's Rhys McClenaghanNorthern Ireland's Rhys McClenaghan
Northern Ireland's Rhys McClenaghan
Within hours of eclipsing double Olympic champion Max Whitlock to claim gymnastics gold at the Commonwealth Games on the Gold Coast, 18-year-old Northern Ireland lad Rhys McClenaghan was making his long-term intentions abundantly clear.

“I’m coming for that world title next, Max,” roared McClenaghan in a Twitter post which the Newtownards native admits appeared to rub some of his rivals up the wrong way - though not, it must be said, the magnanimous Whitlock.

Two weeks later the post remains proudly pinned to the top of McClenaghan’s social media account, offering the tacit promise that there will be plenty more similar proclamations to come.

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“I think most people took it in the way it was intended,” said McClenaghan, who, as Northern Ireland’s only gold medallist at the Games, returned home to find himself transformed into an instant celebrity in County Down.

“Maybe a couple of people thought it was disrespectful but I have got the utmost respect for Max. I put it out there to let people know that I’m here and what my intentions are.”

McClenaghan edged Whitlock on their favoured pommel apparatus by virtue of a higher execution score after the pair had finished locked together on 15.100 points.

It was quite a declaration of intent by the teenager who, hampered by three undiagnosed stress fractures in his wrist, had finished 14th at the World Championship in Montreal in October, where Whitlock cruised to his second straight title.

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McClenaghan will now aim to become only the fourth gymnast to qualify to represent Ireland at an Olympic Games, with success at Tokyo 2020 now a tantalising possibility given his steep trajectory towards the top of the sport.

“Recently we (Ireland) have had some gymnasts who have done a tremendous job to qualify and participate in the Olympics but I don’t want to go there to do just that - that time is over. They broke the doors down for Irish gymnastics but now I want to break down doors further down the chain.”