As soon as the athletes arrive at Tokyo’s fan-free Olympics, many will start focusing on what’s missing: atmosphere, electricity and families clutching hand-painted banners. But that’s not the way Max Whitlock will be thinking. A ruthless competitor, Whitlock is familiar with performing in empty halls, because he began his career long before the boom in British gymnastics. Come August, he expects to feel at home in Japan’s echoing, empty arenas. “When I started out, the British nationals used to be held in a sports hall in Surrey,” said Whitlock, who has travelled a long way from Guildford’s Spectrum Leisure Complex to become the most successful gymnast this country has ever produced. “You’re talking about a couple of hundred seats, and they weren’t even filled up,” he added. “The sport was so small back then, it felt like nobody was interested, and there wasn’t that potential of making a career out of it. So it’s a really proud feeling to have helped gymnastics become one of the most watched Olympic sports. “It seems strange to be going back full circle this summer, in terms of the lack of an audience in Tokyo. But the positive is that I have seen both sides. When you’ve been around for a long time, you can lean on your experiences, and I’ve got a lot of them now.” From the tenor of these comments, you might imagine Whitlock to be a greybeard. In fact, he is 28, and still looks like he barely needs to shave.