RHYS McClenaghan etched his name into Irish sporting folklore with a World Championship gold which made all his sacrifices worthwhile.
McClenaghan is no stranger to breaking ground and won Ireland’s first medal at the event when he brought back bronze from Stuttgart in 2019.
Three years on, the Newtownards star upgraded it in style by dominating the pommel horse final to become his country’s first world gymnastics champion.
It sets the man with the Olympic rings tattoo up for an assault on gold at Paris 2024 and he is embracing the prospect with open arms.
“This has been a long time coming,” he said. “It has been a difficult year but I’m glad I could finish it off with my greatest achievement ever.
“It’s something I’ve dreamed of for many years. I’ve dedicated my life to this sport and to be world champion makes it all worthwhile.
“It just proves to myself and many others I’m still capable of going there and winning Olympic gold, which is a very exciting thought.
“I know I can perform under this immense pressure and I can do the same in Paris.”
McClenaghan began 2022 with ambitions of three major golds but silver at the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham was followed by a surprising exit in European Championship qualifying.
He credited going back to basics as the key to an impressive qualifying performance here but upped his difficulty for Saturday’s showpiece.
The decision paid off in style as his score of 15.300 proved comfortably enough for top spot in a final which saw several of his rivals suffer falls.
“The extra turn on the dismount requires a bit of extra guts,” he said.
“I knew it would be a tough challenge but Stephen [Nedoroscik] matched my score in qualification and I didn’t want that to happen, so I upped the difficulty to make sure I could secure that gold medal.
“There were mistakes but that’s pommel horse. We’ve seen the amount of Olympic champions falling this week, these great names making mistakes – that’s gymnastics.
“I know that’s the way it can happen. It happened to me at the Olympic final. You just learn from them – if you don’t, you can’t go to the next competition and improve.
“That’s exactly what I’ve done. I’ve learned from all the mistakes I had and put them all into this routine.”
McClenaghan’s success makes him the second Irish world champion in as many weekends following Katie Taylor’s latest successful bout and he earmarked the boxer’s ruthless hunger as inspiration as he seeks to scale even greater heights.
“She is a huge inspiration, the greatest of all time,” he said. “Why shouldn’t I aspire to be the greatest of all time on the pommel horse?
“That’s the benefit of having role models like Katie Taylor. I look up to her a huge amount.”
The World Gymnastics Championships Liverpool 2022 is one of the largest international sporting events ever to be held in the city. Over 500 gymnasts from more than 70 countries competed at the M&S Bank Arena
Pictures courtesy of Simone Ferraro