Late fall ends Rhys McClenaghan’s pommel horse medal hopes

The 21-year-old was aiming to defend his title at the European Championships

Rhys McClenaghan of Ireland competes on the pommel horse during the European Artistic Gymnastics Championships in Basel. Photo: Eurasia Sport Images/Getty Images

Rhys McClenaghan of Ireland competes on the pommel horse during the European Artistic Gymnastics Championships in Basel. Photo: Eurasia Sport Images/Getty Images

 

Facing some pressure, perhaps, and certainly his own considerable expectation, Rhys McClenaghan has missed out on defending his European gymnastics title, falling off towards the end of his pommel horse routine and ending all medal hopes in the process.

In what proved a particularly tense and edgy final at the championships in Basel, Switzerland - four of the eight finalists ending up falling off in all - McClenaghan had the advantage of going last, with only a moderate score to beat: instead, while starting well and looking comfortable, the 21-year-old ran into difficulty while travelling back over the horse, 45 seconds in, his left leg briefly touching one of the pommels, and with that he lost balance and control.

Taking most of the permitted 30 seconds to regain his composure, McClenaghan did finish with a clean dismount, only his despondent look said it all. His score of 13.566 was still good enough for fifth position (given four of those eight finalists also fell off during their routine), while the title went the Armenian Artur Davtyan with a score of 14.266, still well down on the 14.766 which McClenaghan scored in Thursday’s qualification, ranking him number one going into final.

It is understood that McClenaghan had been enduring some wrist soreness going into the final and he was clearly off-form based on his qualifying routine: he wasn’t alone however as Britain’s Joshua Nathan, who was the second-best qualifier, endured a similar problem and ended up seventh. Silver went to Nikita Nagornyy from Russia (also on 14.266), with Britain’s Joe Fraser winning bronze (14.066).

“Disappointed. I’m so much more than what I demonstrated at these Europeans. That’s the difficult side of sport... back to the gym,” the 21-year-old said afterwards.

It was also McClenaghan’s first competition since October 2019, his score of 13.566 (a difficult score of 6.0, 7.566 for execution) one of the lowest of his otherwise consistent career. The final also went ahead without Britain’s Max Whitlock, who won Olympic gold in 2016 and has 31 championship medals next to his name, and who also fell during his qualifying routine and ended up 43rd of the 101 entrants.

Already the first Irish gymnast to win a European medal, in 2018, there was one small consolation for McClenaghan when he was given the Shooting Star award, along with Romanian star Larisa Iordache, by event sponsors SmartScoring. Started in 2018, the award aims to put a gymnast with an exceptional story in the spotlight, someone who is an inspiration for the future generation of gymnasts and the general public alike.

McClenaghan hasn’t come this far in his 21 years without such considerable self-belief: in 2016, a first ever gymnastics medal for Ireland at the European Junior Championships; gold at the 2018 Commonwealth, aged only 18, and gold again at the European Senior Championships later that year; then another bronze at the 2019 World Championships, his focus now will turn the Tokyo, and the chance to secure the one medal still absent from his list of honours.

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