Rhys McClenaghan earns Ireland first ever European medal in gymnastics
RHYS McClenaghan has become the first ever Irish gymnast to earn a medal at a European Championships.
The 16-year-old, from the Rathgael Gymnastics club in Bangor, was competing in the U18 category of the Junior European Championships in Bern, Switzerland.
The talented teenager scooped a silver medal in the Pommel Horse section and finished 13th in the All-Round competition.
The two finishes were ‘history making’, as no gymnast competing for Ireland at a European event has ever won a medal, or placed higher in the All-Round competition.
The Regent House student competed in all six apparatus events; floor, rings, vault, parallel bars, high bar and the pommel horse, where he qualified for the finals and earned a first ever medal for Ireland, 0.1 point off a gold.
Rhys’ personal coach, Luke Carson, summed up how special an achievement this was.
“This has never been done before,” he said. “No-one in Senior or Junior’s has ever placed this high in Europe in the history of the sport for Ireland. He very much is one of the most tenacious and hard-working athletes I have ever come across.”
Luke himself has been in the sport for 20 years, competing in six World and European Championships, as well as two Commonwealth Games, but explains that Rhys has something special:
“I’ve seen what the top boys in the world are doing and this kid has everything he needs to become an Olympic champion, I have no doubt in my head,” Carson continued.
“I will be turning Rhys Senior a year early, which means I can open him up to the World Cup series, the Grand Prix events, World Championships, those kind of things that are the biggest competitions.
“I’m going to get his name out there for the world to see, that leads us on to 2018 which is the first year he can start to qualify for the 2020 Olympic Games.”
Gymnastics Ireland CEO Ciaran Gallagher explained it was no surprise Rhys did so well.
“For those that know Rhys and his abilities it was no shock that he secured his position in the Pommel final,” he said.
“He entered into the championships with one of the most difficult routines for a junior in Europe on this apparatus.
“He delivered another significant historic milestone for our organisation and Ireland as a nation.
“For all of us who have been involved in the sport for many years it was a touching moment to see Rhys step onto the podium with traditional gymnastics powerhouse nations Russia and Great Britain and watch the Irish flag rise in the arena.”