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Rhys McClenaghan back on the horse following European disappointment

Rhys McClenaghan

It’s not how he envisioned the competition to go but Rhys McClenaghan is focusing on the positives following his fifth-place finish at the European Championships last weekend in Switzerland.

McClenaghan was top of the class following the qualification stages last Thursday before a late fall during his final routine saw him walk away without a European medal.

His uncharacteristic mistake was largely due to a wrist injury suffered before travelling. Despite his initial frustration, the 21-year-old is determined to move on from the setback.


“It’s interesting to see how the brain evolves from immediately after a loss where all I feel is frustration, and then it kind of evolves into, it’s not so bad, this is European Championships, you start to justify it a little bit more and see the bigger picture, and that bigger picture is always Olympic Games.

“Even though the Europeans didn’t go as we had planned, now you give it a couple of days to think over, it becomes a lot more justified in your head. This is the reason we went for the more difficult routine, this is why that happened, and why that did happen is mostly because of the injury in my wrist at the minute.

“Each day I’m seeing an improvement in my wrist but it put a real spanner in the works. The day before I was meant to travel I sustained a wrist injury on a simple conditioning exercise and that kind of threw off the whole perfect programme we had leading up to that.


“That’s sport, when you’re pushing your body to the limits every single day there’s bound to be something like that happening. I was talking to you guys a week out from Europeans saying ‘my body is 100 percent, I’m going there with no issues at all’, but of course the day before I fly an issue crops up so that’s just sport.”

Despite his young age, McClenaghan has an enviable outlook on disappointment, his sport, and life in general. His key focus is, and always has been, the Olympic Games later this year, and this loss hasn’t changed his perception of his ability.

“It’s sport, it’s life as well. Things can be going perfectly and then last second they can just take a left turn and go wrong. But it’s just all part of that journey.

“But it’s part of that story and when I have an Olympic gold medal around my neck, I can look back on these European Championships and laugh because it’s how crazy sport can be. There are so many ups and downs and different turns in the journey so this is just one of those low points, I guess. 

“I’m turning this negative into a positive and seeing it in a motivating way, that I can take extra motivation going into Olympic Games and any competition past this as well.” 

The European Championships were more positive for Team Ireland overall with fellow gymnasts Emma Slevin and Adam Steele, competing in the All-Around Finals – a first for the country.  A win for Irish gymnastics is a win for McClenaghan.

“It just goes to show that even with me leaving without a medal, Irish gymnasts are no longer satisfied with just participating. Adam and Emma demonstrated that perfectly with creating history once again for Ireland and making the All-Around Finals at the same competition. First time ever that’s happened. 

“So that’s a very positive thing. It’s inspired me to become a better gymnast from what those guys did and I’m sure it’s inspiring younger gymnasts as well. Now young gymnasts can’t just look at me as a pommel horse athlete, they can look at Adam and Emma as the guys who do the All-Around event and it’s a very powerful thing for people. 

“Even it just being broadcasted on RTÉ, it’s a very positive thing that young gymnasts were able to watch two Irish athletes in the All-Around Final and see me in the Event Final, just representing Ireland and getting that inspiration and motivation that they can do the same thing if they commit to their sport.”

So it’s onwards and upwards for McClenaghan and Team Ireland as they continue their countdown to Tokyo.


Team Ireland partner and Global job site, Indeed, created a short film on the extraordinary journey of Ambassador Rhys McClenaghan and his determination to take home Ireland’s first-ever gymnastic Olympic medal through their #TalentUnleashed series.

Watch the full video at


Author: Marisa Kennedy

Marisa is a Digital Journalist with Pundit Arena. You can contact her at [email protected] or on Twitter