Postponement a blow to my hopes of more Olympic titles, admits Max Whitlock

By Mark Staniforth, PA Olympics Correspondent
PA Media: Sport

Max Whitlock has admitted his hopes of holding on to his Olympic titles have been hit by the inevitable decision to postpone this year’s Tokyo Games due to the coronavirus.

Every year counts for Whitlock in his quest to keep younger rivals like Ireland’s Rhys McClenaghan at bay and repeat his feat at Rio in 2016 when he bagged both pommel and floor gold medals on the same day.

But the 27-year-old is keen to keep a sense of perspective and will launch a new live-streamed video workout on his Youtube channel next week to encourage young gymnasts to keep fit during the nationwide lockdown.

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Whitlock told the PA news agency: “I’ve got to be honest and say that every year gets tougher – the training is harder and the recovery takes longer – so that is going to be a hard thing.

“But I’m trying to look at the positives and just be grateful that they didn’t cancel the Games outright. It is a situation no athlete could have prepared themselves for, and it is about how we can best react.”

Whitlock is self-isolating with his wife Leah and their 13-month old daughter Willow at their home in Essex, where he is intent on playing his part in helping keep the nation’s house-bound children interested in the sport.

Max Whitlock admits retaining his Olympic title in Tokyo will be tough (Jane Barlow/PA)
Max Whitlock admits retaining his Olympic title in Tokyo will be tough (Jane Barlow/PA)

As well as his ongoing ‘Whitlock Workouts’, Whitlock is launching a new twice-weekly series called ‘GymnasticsWithMax’, in which he will live-stream sessions to young gymnasts on social media.

Whitlock added: “I wanted to do something to help all these millions of kids who can’t go out and do what they want to do and the gymnasts who can’t go along to their training gyms.

“I think it’s important that when we get back to normality, kids won’t turn away from gymnastics. I want them to keep that buzz within them and hopefully by sharing these sorts of sessions that will help.”

One potential knock-on effect of Whitlock’s temporary confinement to pommel training could be his decision to devote preparations for the Tokyo Games solely to his favourite piece of equipment.

Whitlock has not tried to hide his struggle on the floor since his surprise gold in Rio and hinted that it may be something he is forced to set aside in order not to compromise his status as overwhelming pommel favourite.

Whitlock, who had also reintroduced high bar and parallel bar routines with a view to helping the Great Britain team in Tokyo, conceded: “Floor has been a struggle recently, and it has been really hard to routine together.

“For around three years it hasn’t been up to scratch and it is getting harder every year. When we get back to normality I’m not sure it’s going to be the best thing.

“I was focused so much on floor for the worlds that it affected my pommel and made it not as good as it could have been. Perhaps I have to look at pommel as my main focus, and make that decision.”

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