Max Whitlock “we’re looking at the bigger picture”

Max Whitlock of Great Britain after competing in pommel horse qualifications at the 2018 European Championships (Photo courtesy Glasgow 2018 via Getty Images)

12 August 2018 – When Max just missed out on the gold medal to Ireland’s Rhys McClenaghan at the Commonwealth Games in early 2018, it set up the prospect of an exciting re-match between himself and Rhys at the European championships in Glasgow. I spoke to Max both before and after the pommel horse final – where a mistake left him in seventh place.

Before competition started
“Gymnastics is so unpredictable,” says Max of his Commonwealth Games defeat (to be fair, he tied with Rhys in first place, but the tie-break rule shunted him down to second). He also stumbled on floor and didn’t make that final. ”But I can take a lot of positives out of Australia. It taught me a lot of lessons. Whatever happens on the day, happens.”

In a sport where precision is everything, pommel horse is one of the most challenging events. One hand placement slightly out of kilter can upset the whole rhythm of the routine, and once the rhythm is lost, a falter can lead to a fall.

“You never know in sport. I never expect anything,” Max says. “I’ve just got to do my job, stick to my plan, try not to worry about what anyone else is doing. Then hopefully it will work out.”

As well as his personal goals to reach both floor and pommel horse finals in Glasgow, Max’s scores will also contribute to the team effort. Barring any major calamity, a top eight finish, and qualification to the team final, is well within grasp.

Russia beat Great Britain into second place in the last two European team finals (2014 and 2016), so they are clearly the team to beat.

“Russia are a brilliant team. They’re looking really good,” says Max. “I’m sure they’ll be ready for their competition. But it doesn’t matter who we’re against, our team’s got to have the same mindset. Our job is to believe we can do it.”

Although he sees these European championships as a significant event in their own right – particularly as they are part of the first multi-sport event of its kind – Max has a long term strategy far beyond these championships.

“I’m hoping to carry on for another six years,” the 25-year-old says. That would take him to the 2024 Olympics in Paris, which would be his fourth Olympic Games. 

If he can make it, he will be 31 years old when he finally hangs up the chalk bag. “It does get harder as you get older, but hopefully I can keep going for as long as I can.”

After the pommel horse final
After his mistake in the pommel horse final in Glasgow, Max is surprisingly upbeat. “It was just one of those things. I’m sure it looks like I just stopped, but I went into it too fast. It’s something I can learn from. I’m happy with my score.”

“It might sound a bit funny, but everything’s on track,” he adds. “We’re not looking at just the competitions we’re in now, we’re looking at the bigger picture. Straight after London 2012, I was making mistakes at major championships – at Europeans, at worlds. I was making mistakes because I jam-packed the difficulty in, trying to give myself experience, so it was perfected by the time I got to Rio. I’m trying to mirror that as much as I can.”

Russia won the team title in Glasgow, with Great Britain in second place, and Rhys McClenaghan of Ireland won the gold medal on pommel horse.

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