NI teen Rhys McClenaghan upstages Olympic champion to pommel horse gold
PEERLESS on the pommel for over three years, double Olympic champion Max Whitlock was dramatically upstaged by Northern Ireland 18-year-old Rhys McClenaghan in their individual apparatus final at the Gold Coast Commonwealth Games.
Whitlock was left to add only a silver to his previous gold medal in the team competition, while a series of uncharacteristic mistakes during his floor final also left him trailing in sixth place behind well behind winner Marios Georgiou of Cyprus.
McClenaghan from Antrim underlined his enormous potential by matching Whitlock’s pommel score of 15.1, securing the gold, and with it Northern Ireland’s first medal of any colour at these Games, by virtue of a greater mark for the execution element of his routine.
“Max is one of the best gymnasts ever and I remember watching him at the 2010 Commonwealth Games in Delhi when I was 10 years old,” said McClenaghan.
“To be competing against him is incredible but I’m up there with him now and I’ve even overtaken him.” There was also a gold medal for England 17-year-old Georgia-Mae Fenton on the uneven bars, while Courtney Tulloch edged Nile Wilson for gold on the men’s rings.
Honestly can’t thank you all enough. The support that I have gotten in the past 24 hours has been crazy! I love everybody who supports me so much, because I know I couldn’t do it with out you. I’ve tried reading and responding to all the messages I can but there’s so many! pic.twitter.com/upz7epLHeo— Rhys Mcclenaghan (@McClenaghanRhys) April 9, 2018
Whitlock had been considered an overwhelming favourite to add two more Commonwealth golds to his swelling collection, but insisted confirmation of a threat to his longtime dominance of his favoured apparatus will provide him with renewed intensity.
After stepping out early in his floor routine and proceeding to make a series of minor errors, Whitlock’s score failed to threaten the leaders including Scotland’s Dan Purvis, who took bronze.
Whitlock, who was cleaner on the pommel only to be eclipsed by his ebullient and emergent rival, said: “You can’t have a perfect competition every time and I’m going to go away and learn so much.
“The competitions you go and do amazingly, you just go with the flow and don’t learn much.
"But this one hopefully I’ll learn a lot and get some fire back in me because maybe that is what’s needed. “It’s easy to chase but it’s so hard to retain. This is why I look up to Usain Bolt and Mo Farah, because there’s a lot more pressure when you’re defending something. It all comes from a pressure within, which is tough.”
In contrast Fenton continues to dream of making a name for herself on the world stage, and there was something about the way in which the Londoner coolly delivered on the most unreliable piece of apparatus that suggests she may be a name to watch at Tokyo 2020.
Repeating her leading qualifying score of 14.6, Fenton easily fended off her rivals before devoting her gold medal to her mother Lisa, who was watching on television back home in England. “It’s my mum’s birthday and I was like, what can I get her as a present?” said Fenton.
“I thought, I’ll do my bar routine really well and we’ll see. “I was kind of gambling on getting a gold medal. If not I would have had to get her something else.” Tulloch was never likely to be troubled on his specialist rings apparatus, his total of 14.833 too good for second-placed Wilson, who still has three more chances to add to his medal haul on the final day of the apparatus finals on Monday.
“It’s one of the best routines I’ve ever done and I’m so happy,” said Tulloch, who also fired a warning that team-mate Whitlock, with whom he won gold in the men’s team event on Thursday, would come back stronger from his surprise defeat. “Max is an amazing role model for all of us,” added Tulloch.
“Today he made a few mistakes but he will bounce back for sure. You can’t write off Max Whitlock. He will be back for sure.”