Rhys McClenaghan: No time to party as NI gymnast chases Olympic dream

Rhys McClenaghan
Shoulder surgery meant McClenaghan was unable to defend his European title in April

Northern Ireland gymnast Rhys McClenaghan has said he is aiming for "perfection" as he bids to win an Olympic gold medal.

The 2018 Commonwealth Games pommel horse champion is focused on securing qualification for Tokyo 2020 at October's World Championships.

McClenaghan turns 20 later this month but coach Luke Carson joked that there will be no time to celebrate.

"There'll be a party in the gym," Carson told Radio Ulster's Summer Club.

"Rhys has got lots of routines to do in order to prepare for the Irish Nationals."

McClenaghan won a silver medal at the FIG World Challenge Cup in China in May as he returned to action after undergoing surgery on a shoulder injury in November.

The Newtownards native followed that up with gold at the World Challenge Cup in Slovenia last month and is confident of repeating that success in Tokyo.

Rhys McClenaghan
McClenaghan beat Olympic champion Max Whitlock to win gold at the Commonwealth Games in Australia

"We're aiming for perfection and nothing less. If we aim for that then there is no reason why I can't get the highest execution score in the world," McClenaghan said.

"I always know I have the potential to go out there and take a gold medal. I remember being at the opening ceremony for the London Olympics and it feels right that I should be here now [trying to qualify].

"If I go to the World Championships and perform well then it will be job done. I'm fully focused on chasing the Olympic dream."

McClenaghan admitted he found it difficult not be able to compete for so long after injuring his shoulder at the 2018 World Championships in Doha.

However, he said he and Carson took the time to work on his technique, leaving him confident of securing the judges' scores he needs for success.

"Being out was a real challenge, I hadn't had that much of a break from gymnastics since I was about eight years old," McClenaghan added.

"We always had Olympic qualification on our minds. To have that time off tested me as it was a shock to the system and a shock to the brain.

"But I am now fully focused on getting myself prepared. I don't go into competitions worrying what other competitors might do because when I put my hands on the pommel horse I am in my own world.

"I was nervous going back into competition in China but I knew in Slovenia that I was back and I had blown the cobwebs away."