Max Whitlock hopes his OBE will help future generations of gymnasts

The triple gold medallist defended his pommel horse title at the delayed Tokyo Olympic Games.

Helen William
Saturday 01 January 2022 11:31
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Max Whitlock has been made an Officer of the Order of the British Empire for services to gymnastics (PA)
Max Whitlock has been made an Officer of the Order of the British Empire for services to gymnastics (PA)

Six-time Olympic medallist Max Whitlock said it is “a massive, massive privilege” to have been made an OBE but the important thing for him will be how he can use the honour to improve the sport of gymnastics.

The 28-year-old claimed his third career Olympic gold when he defended his pommel horse title at the Tokyo Games in August.

He told BBC Breakfast: “I have been involved in the sport when it was a very, very different place to what it is now.

“It feels like an absolute privilege and a really, really proud feeling to be on that journey to what the sport is now in terms of participation levels rocketing through the roof and the progression in the sport.

“I am excited to see what I can do and what the team can do to help it move forwards and continue growing.”

He added: “Hopefully with awards like this, I can keep creating an impact. It is incredible to be awarded, but it is what you do next that is even more important as well.

“Hopefully I can help the next generations that are coming through.”

Whitlock, whose OBE is for services to gymnastics, said he is involved in grassroots projects at school level within the sport and is also trying to help coaches.

Whitlock’s gold at the Tokyo Games was his sixth Olympic medal.

He won gold in the floor exercise and pommel in Rio, as well as an all-around bronze, while he also took team and pommel horse bronze medals in London in 2012 as a teenager.

He said he “would love to carry on” to the Paris 2024 Olympics, which would involve a shorter training cycle after the Tokyo Games were delayed a year due to the pandemic.

He revealed he has not yet restarted his training and has been spending time with his wife Leah and daughter Willow.

Whitlock told the programme: “Paris would be a dream of mine. I would love to make four Olympic Games.

“I would say I am not back in training yet. This is the longest time I have ever had off from training but I am really waiting for that itch still. I am not pushing it. I am being patient. I have got time.

“I am excited to get that motivation back and kickstart back into training and to build up. Competitions will be coming around which is exciting.

Olympic gymnast Max Whitlock with his wife Leah and daughter Willow at Heathrow Airport after the Tokyo Games (Steve Parsons/PA)

“I think I just had to give myself that time to fully reflect and spend time with my family, especially over Christmas, to get ready to kickstart back into it.”

Whitlock’s success in Tokyo came at the end of a challenging Olympic cycle – he called it “a million times harder” than the Rio Games. He had initially set his focus on claiming the all-around title before accepting his best chance of success was on the pommel horse.

Even once he had refocused, Whitlock faced major challenges, with Irish rival Rhys McClenaghan beating him at the Commonwealth Games in Australia in 2018 and at the European Games in Glasgow.

Things did not go entirely to plan in Tokyo either, with Whitlock only managing to finish fifth out of eight in qualifying following a mistake.

But when it came to the medal final, he appeared nerveless, performing first and laying down a score of 15.583 which no-one could match.

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