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'The world will see him crowned, just not today' - McClenaghan's time will come after Olympic heartbreak

‘It feels like the beginning of something very special,’ says the 22-year-old, with his ‘head held higher than ever’.

Ireland's Rhys McClenaghan speaking with his Coach Luke Carson.
Ireland's Rhys McClenaghan speaking with his Coach Luke Carson.
Image: James Crombie/INPHO

RHYS MCCLENAGHAN SAYS his “head is held higher than ever” after his Olympic pommel horse final heartbreak this morning.

The 22-year-old fell during his routine, finishing seventh and missing out on a medal.

McClenaghan, the first-ever Irish gymnast to reach an Olympic final, spoke brilliantly in his interview with RTÉ afterwards, explaining how he’ll use the disappointment as motivation going forward, turning the negative into a positive.

“This is a very early chapter in my gymnastics career,” he noted within. “I’ve enjoyed the journey and that’s a victory for me. I know that I’ll come back a way better gymnast, a way better man.”

The Down native tweeted afterwards: “My head is held higher than ever. At this very early stage in my career I can call myself an Olympic finalist. It feels like the beginning of something very special. Thank you for all the support, it does not go unnoticed. Love you all so much.”

One person 2018 European champion and 2019 world championship bronze medallist McClenaghan reserved special praise for was his coach, Luke Carson.

A former international gymnast himself, they’ve been on the road together for the past six years.

“My coach Luke has sacrificed such a huge amount for me,” McCleneghan said. “He’s got a young family, the fact that he had to leave them, come down to Dublin to train with me.

“It shows how dedicated Luke is in this game and it rubs off me too, it inspires me a huge amount. Thanks to my family, I love you and appreciate all the sacrifices you have made for me. Thanks also to all my fans who have supported me in getting here.”

Carson tweeted: “I am very proud of Rhys McClenaghan. Little will know what goes on behind the scenes, I am unshaken, the world will see him crowned, just not today. I genuinely believe this. He is a role model and a gentleman. Time is the healer now. The support has been emotional, thank you all.”

McCleneghan “has done Gymnastics Ireland, his country and fans proud,” a heartfelt statement from the national governing body reads.

Gymnastics Ireland CEO, Ciarán Gallagher, noted: 

“There is nothing but pride here in Gymnastics Ireland for everything Rhys has achieved in Tokyo. Seeing him lined up alongside the powerhouse nations of China, Russia, Japan etc representing Ireland in an Olympic final was a complete goosebump moment.

His interview with RTÉ after was just superb. Like Rhys said himself, he is just getting started.

“Congratulations to our GI support team for the flawless preparation both in and out of the gym. To our National Coach Luke Carson, Performance and Technical Manager, Sally Johnson, again proud is an understatement.

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“Huge thanks to our Sport Ireland Institute support team including physios Julianne Ryan and Paul Carragher and finally thanks to our partners Sport Ireland and the Olympic Federation of Ireland.

We had many young national squad gymnasts here at the GI watch-party at the Sport Ireland Campus this morning, The impact watching Rhys in this final has had on them and all the others watching at home is immeasurable.

“We look forward to welcoming home our first Olympic finalist and his support team for celebrations in Dublin soon.”

“We are all super proud of what Rhys has achieved,” Gymnastics Ireland chairperson, Shane O’Connor, added. “We are looking forward to what he will achieve in the future as he continues to inspire the future generation of gymnasts behind him.”

Paris 2024 is not too far away.

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Emma Duffy

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