Tokyo 2020: Interviews turn into therapy sessions at enthralling Olympics

TV View: Rhys McClenaghan vows to get back on the pommel horse after heartbreak

Rhys McClenaghan during the Men’s Pommel Horse Final at the Ariake Gymnastics Centre in Tokyo: “I’m definitely the kind of person who turns a negative in to a positive, and that’s what I’m going to do.” Photograph: Mike Egerton/PA

There’s been a heap of talk the past week or so about how these Olympics have been so tremendously inspirational that the bulk of the young persons on our planet will be compelled to become Olympians themselves one day. To these young persons we say: don’t even bloody think about it. There’s way too much pain involved; life’s too short.

Not, of course, that, say, Rhys McClenaghan, Thomas Barr and Kurt Walker would agree that sitting on a couch munching Scampi Fries and watching it all on telly actually beats being there and competing. But there must have a moment on Sunday when they wondered if that was, in fact, the better life choice.

A potentially Super Sunday turned Severely Sorrowful for all three, an out-of-place finger ending Rhys’s quest for an Olympic medal after five years of hard toil.

An out-of-place finger. Let that sink in, young persons.


While RTÉ’s Clare MacNamara and Paul O’Flynn have had plenty of joyous post-competing chats with our 2020 Olympians to keep their spirits high, they’ve had their fair share of counselling sessions with heartbroken competitors too.

O’Flynn’s chat with Rhys threatened to be one of the latter, but the Newtownards lad is such a force of nature, not even the cruel consequences of an out-of-place finger would down him.

“And that’s all it took to knock me off the horse, they’re the fine margins that are in this game, it’s brutal,” he said.

“But I’m definitely the kind of person who turns a negative into a positive, and that’s what I’m going to do. I’m going to leave this arena with this incredible experience, becoming an Olympian, the first Irish gymnast to become an Olympic finalist, and that’s something very special to me, that’s my achievement. I’ve enjoyed the journey and that’s a victory for me, but this is definitely not the end of the journey by any means.”

A treasure, that fella.


Back in the studio, Mairead Kavanagh, a gymnastics judge at the Rio Olympics, saluted him for getting back on his horse, so to speak, to complete his routine, even though his race was run by then.

“He was beautiful, effortless, so easy to watch,” she said. “Sport at the top level is cruel, but he’s not going anywhere. This is just the start for Rhys.”

Former Irish gymnast Andrew Smith, meanwhile, summed it up, in a “that’s life” sort of way. Except he opted for “that’s pommel horse”.

At least Rhys got to compete in his final. British sprinter Zharnel Hughes? It wasn’t so much an out-of-place finger that did for him, it was half an out-of-place body that resulted in his disqualification from the 100m final before it even started, the poor lad having to depart the track after having a red card waved in his face.

Linford Christie used to talk about starting his races on the B of the Bang; Zharnel appeared to think Bang began with an A.

Back in the BBC studio, Michael Johnson, looking even more distinguished than usual with his greying beard, showered Zharnel with empathy and sympathy. Kidding.

“I don’t know what was going on there, but I will maintain for the rest of my life that there is no excuse for a false start. Are you not focused on reacting to the gun? This was a blatant false start.”

Because Michael Johnson has a tad more Olympic experience than the Scampi Fries-munchers back home on their couches, it’s hard to argue with him, but God almighty, Zharnel Hughes hardly worked all his life to reach an Olympic final with being disqualified before it started part of his mission.

Anyway, Italy’s Marcell Jacobs won gold.

“I need a week or so to understand what has happened,” he said.

Sonia O’Sullivan, who tipped Fred Kerley, and Derval O’Rourke, who went for Andre de Grasse, will probably need a year.

(Rob Heffernan, incidentally, completes RTÉ’s athletics panel. Not since Cork won the double in 1990 has the county annexed our national sporting airwaves in such an all-encompassing manner. There’ll be a tribunal of enquiry yet to investigate this partiality.)


Marcell, though, wasn’t even the weekend’s superstar, the BBC’s Alex Scott pipping him to the title. After the pillock that is Lord Digby Jones attacked her for her “noticeable inability to pronounce her ‘g’s at the end of a word”, Alex took to the air.

“Evenin’,” she said. “So far we’ve been runnin’, ridin’, shootin’, scorin’, swimmin’ and puttin’ – but we’ve got a lot of gold to still uncover!”

Just when you thought it wasn’t possible to love Alex Scott any more, she only goes and flippin’ does that. Ledge.

As is, of course, Paul O’Donovan, who RTÉ News showed arriving back home on Sunday, laden with gold. Any wild plans?

“I wouldn’t mind just going outside for a walk around and getting a cup of coffee.”

Party animal. You fear, though, that wherever he’ll go, there’ll be no peace. There’ll be cheerin’, mobbin’, clappin’ and salutin’.

And quite right too.