sports gazette

EXCLUSIVE: Double Olympic gymnastics champion Max Whitlock on Rio, MBE and 2017

Published: 31 Dec 2016

Max Whitlock became a household name in summer 2016 after being crowned double Olympic champion in Rio.

He executed two fantastic final performances to take both the men’s floor and pommel horse titles – GB’s first ever Olympic gymnastics gold medallist and the first Brit to medal on floor at a Games.

After a whirlwind two weeks, in which he also secured bronze in the all-around competition, he admitted that even four months on he is still adapting to life post-Rio.

Speaking exclusively to Sports Gazette at the Women’s Artistic Voluntary Age Group Championships, he said: "To be honest I don’t know if it will ever sink in – that’s what I’m thinking at the moment.

"For athletes, for results to sink in, it’s quite hard.

"For example, I’m back in the gym and training so there are always new targets to go for.

"So obviously when I think back to Rio, it feels like such a long time ago!

"It’s amazing to think back and gives me a lot of confidence moving forward."

And this was all before he was awarded an MBE in the Queen’s New Year Honours List!

Down-to-earth, focused, genuine and unassuming, Whitlock is a consummate professional.

Discussing his approach, he said: "I basically go out there and think if I’ve done all the work I possibly could, if I’ve trained my hardest I possibly can in the build-up, then it’s just about going out there on the day and enjoying the experience because you can’t do any more.

"If you make a mistake, you make a mistake and try again next time.

"Do your best – that’s all anyone can ask."

His attitude and commitment makes him a role model for young gymnasts and wholly deserving of this recognition for services to gymnastics.

When he isn’t training in the gym, he’s often found at youth competitions supporting his fiancée Leah Hickton, a respected and successful gymnastics coach in her own right, and up-and-coming youngsters from South Essex Gymnastics Club.

Although he enjoys being on the other side, it makes a change for him to be handing out medals rather than receiving them himself.

He said: "I like to come to competitions like this, obviously to support Leah and her girls here from South Essex.

"It’s good to see the young ones that are coming through on the girls’ side here.

"That is the future of our sport and hopefully there’s a lot of potential that comes through."

The 23-year-old believes he still has a lot more to offer and has always aspired to leave his mark on the world of gymnastics, including having a move named after himself.

The Biles, The Drăgulescu, The Mikulak and a host of others are all already recognised by the International Federation of Gymnastics – but when and where could we see The Whitlock?

Giving away no clues as to the move itself, Whitlock said: "It’s always been a target for me and I will definitely try and do that within the next cycle maybe.

"But for me, it’s about going back in the gym. I’ve got a lot to learn, especially on floor and pommel as well.

"I want to really increase my difficulty on those pieces and go again next year.

"You know the competitions will be coming up and I’m looking forward to getting out there again."

One competition on the horizon is the World Cup of Gymnastics in April 2017 in London, which Whitlock is headlining.

After Team GB’s fantastic performance in gymnastics at Rio 2016, including bronze medals for Nile Wilson (high bar) and Amy Tinkler (floor), the event is set to be broadcast by Sky Sports.

An estimated 10.4 million people tuned in to see Whitlock claim his second title in August and he’s delighted that gymnastics will be on the map once again.

He said: "It’s a great opportunity. What we’re trying to do is get gymnastics out there as much as possible and hopefully that can help a lot.

"It will obviously give the viewers another chance to see everyone in action and it’ll be a bit different as well.

"It’s not going to be a normal competition so they’re going to come up with a lot of ideas to make it really good to watch.

"It’s invitational only so it’ll be the best in the world competing and it’ll be a tough competition for everyone but we will see who gets there and I’m sure it’ll be an exciting one."

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