By Paul Martin at the M&S Bank Arena
Resurgent Rhys McClenaghan returned to a tried and tested formula to ease into the World Championship final and send a statement of intent to his medal rivals in Liverpool.
McClenaghan surprisingly missed out on the European final in September but was back to his best in Monday’s qualifying session, scoring 15.233 to soar to the pommel horse summit with just two subdivisions remaining.
The 23-year-old from Newtownards will now do battle with reigning champion Stephen Nedoroscik, of the USA, in Saturday’s final as he looks to upgrade the bronze he won at this event in 2019.
Rhys McClenaghan 🇮🇪@GymnasticsIre star claimed top spot in the men's pommel horse with a score of 15.233 in Subdivision 4 ⚡️
Live standings ➡️ https://t.co/Bc2yBUKq5b
📸 @SimoneFerraroPh#WelcomeToOurWorld #WGC2022 #ARTWorlds2022 #gymnastics | @gymnastics pic.twitter.com/5DJhk3tTgO
— World Gymnastics Championships 2022 (@WGC2022) October 31, 2022
“I felt confident out there, it felt like another training session,” he said.
“Ever since I’ve gone back to that older routine, which is just a solid routine that I’ve been doing throughout my career and building on it, I’ve felt confident.
“That other routine I was doing at Commonwealths and Europeans just didn’t have that security I like in my gymnastics.
“Another clean routine is my target. Adding an extra turn on the dismount might help with the difficulty score and I can be even cleaner, my execution score can be even better.
“I’m looking forward to having that opportunity in finals again.”
McClenaghan’s chances will be boosted by vocal support from the crowd, with a hearty contingent of fans travelling across the Irish Sea to get behind him.
The 2018 European champion gave them plenty to cheer with his qualifying display and the support did not go unnoticed.
“It’s almost like a home championships for me to have so many fans here,” he said.
“The Irish fans travel worldwide, which just shows how amazing they are.
“Gymnastics is almost an unheard of sport in Ireland but we can grow it more and more with results like today’s. It’s a very beautiful thing to see.”
McClenaghan’s podium finish in Stuttgart three years ago made him the first Irish gymnast to win a World Championship medallist and he was part of more history in Paris last month, winning World Cup gold alongside compatriot Eamon Montgomery.
The 19-year-old from Belfast will not be joining McClenaghan in an individual final, however, a stumble on his dismount proving costly as his floor routine scored 12.900.
“It felt good until the dismount, where I got a bit relaxed,” he said.
“I haven’t fallen for a few months in the build-up to this, so it stings, but that’s the way it is.
“It would have been good to make a final and see what I could do there but this gives me hunger to keep performing at this stage.
“It’s my first year of senior competition internationally and it has been positive. I’ve picked up two medals against the best in the world, so it’s all good.
“I’ll have a few weeks off and then get back to it in the new year.”
Montgomery will now join the Irish supporters backing McClenaghan for glory and he believes his close friend can go all the way.
“He’s looking amazing,” he added. “He could win any colour medal easily. I’m really excited for him.”
The World Gymnastics Championships Liverpool 2022 will be one of the largest international sporting events ever to be held in the city. Over 500 gymnasts from more than 70 countries will compete at the M&S Bank Arena from 29 October to 6 November 2022. Tickets are available at www.2022worldgymnastics.com/tickets.