'I've reinvented myself after surgery' - McClenaghan targets Olympic gold after world bronze

McClenaghan secured Ireland's first World Gymnastics Championship medal in Stuttgart
McClenaghan secured Ireland's first World Gymnastics Championship medal in Stuttgart

Rhys McClenaghan says resting on his laurels is not an option as he targets Olympic gold in Tokyo next summer.

McClenaghan, 20, claimed Ireland's first World Gymnastics Championship medal with bronze in the pommel horse event in Stuttgart earlier this month.

Speaking on Sportsound Extra Time, the Co Down native says he is determined to use his success in Germany as a platform ahead of his Olympic debut.

"I know what place I want on the podium," said McClenaghan.

"That pommel horse final was the best final I've ever seen and I've studied so many pommel horse finals.

"To have three people up there that could have taken the gold with such a small margin between the scores, it's going to make for an exciting Olympics."

Commonwealth champion McClenaghan finished third behind Britain's Max Whitlock and Lee Chih-Kai of Taiwan in the worlds final, a year on from his fall in the championships which led to a shoulder injury which kept him out for six months.

That injury offered the Newtownards gymnast the opportunity to reinvent himself and, having secured Olympic qualification, he hopes to build the difficulty of his routine.

"It [execution] doesn't come naturally at all," added McClenaghan.

"There's a huge amount of work involved.

"Although it looks beautiful and easy when I'm doing it now, when I had the surgery last year, I took the opportunity to reinvent my basic skills, so I'm so happy that I can go to world championships and showcase that.

"We've got the opportunity to build the difficulty while maintaining that execution."

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McClenaghan 'proud' as he clinches world bronze

While McClenaghan admits that he struggles to completely take his mind off gymnastics when he is in the gym, he has taken up golf as a way to relax when he's not focusing on his routine.

"It's just something else to do," he said of his newfound hobby.

"I love spending time with my family, too, but gymnastics is always on my mind.

"Even when I'm not in the gym, I always find myself studying pommel horse finals, where I just study the best, like the Chinese gymnasts from the last generation."

'I can relate to Rory McIlroy'

While McClenaghan perhaps doesn't intend to take his burgeoning golf interest too far beyond knocking balls around Blackwood where he practices, he says he'd love to pick the brain of Rory McIlroy, to whom he feels he can relate given the importance of a strong mental state in both sports.

"I'd love a sit-down with Rory," he said.

"He's up there in the top 10 people I want to have a conversation with.

"I'm not someone who would go up and ask for a photograph - I want to talk to them and learn from them and Rory's one of those people because I feel like I could relate to him a lot.

McClenaghan says he would love a 'sit down' with four-time major winner Rory McIlroy
McClenaghan says he would love a 'sit-down' with four-time major winner Rory McIlroy

"I would say that gymnastics is 80% mental and 20% physical. There are a lot of people who would disagree with me on that, but if you can't perform and get your mental state in the right place when it comes to the routine, it's easy to lose concentration."

With a healthy, respectful rivalry with Whitlock and the Olympics on the horizon, McClenaghan feels as though the World Championships bronze is just the beginning.

"By the time the Olympics comes around, you're going to see a brand new Rhys again."

You can listen to the full Rhys McClenaghan interview on Sportsound Extra Time on BBC Sounds here