Max Whitlock wants to revolutionise gymnastics. And the Gold Coast 2018 Commonwealth Games seem like a good place to start.
“It’s a bit crazy, I am making huge upgrades again,” says the twice Olympic and twice world champion as he looks forward to his third Commonwealth Games.
“I am hoping to get two brand new tumbles in my floor routine, which is an upgrade on an upgrade I did for the worlds.”
The fact that the initial upgraded tumble resulted in Whitlock, the Rio 2016 Olympic floor gold medallist, crashing out of the 2017 world championships in Montreal before the final, does not bother the 24–year-old in the slightest. Fear and hesitation have no place in this man’s makeup.
“I have to keep upping my game,” he says simply. “If I stand still people are going to catch me up and I don’t want that to happen. I am pushing as much as I can.”
The Commonwealth Games hold a particularly special place in the Englishman’s heart.
“I always look back at Delhi (2010 Games) as the competition that made me believe what was possible, 100 per cent I see that as the start of my career on a senior level,” he recalls.
As a then 17-year-old, Whitlock had gone straight from the junior European championships to Delhi, where he won a team and pommel silver and a bronze on the horizontal bars. Perhaps more important than the actual medals was the experience he gained.
“I was very lucky. Going into London, I hadn’t done a world’s but what I had done was the Commonwealth Games, which was the closest experience you can have,” he says. “I remember it being so much fun. And it was a case of looking back and feeling the more you enjoy the competition, the more chilled you are, the better you do.”
And better he did indeed do, taking British gymnastics with him on an inexorable rise. At London 2012 Whitlock was part of the first British men’s gymnastics team to win an Olympic medal in 100 years. He has since become the first British male gymnastics world champion – winning pommel gold in 2015 and 2017 – and the first Briton ever to win an Olympic individual gymnastics title, claiming floor and pommel glory at Rio 2016.
“It’s amazing to think we are comparing with the likes of China and the USA where the number of participants they have in gymnastics is I don’t know how many times the number in Great Britain,” Whitlock says with a grin. “We are a top-three, top-four country in the world and we are really fighting to keep pushing. It’s crazy and it has been such a quick change.
“We have got some great juniors coming so hopefully the results can keep coming.”
Crucially, for Whitlock it is the on-going pursuit of excellence that drives him, meaning his success is, to date, not in danger of dampening his drive.
“It’s strange, in a way it has made me a lot more relaxed getting those results, but in a way it has also made me a lot more motivated,” he explains. “Now I want to see how far I can go, see how far I can push my body, to what extent I can make bigger and bigger upgrades on the pieces I am focused on.”
Alongside this is a self-confessed “huge motivation” to retain titles. After picking up three gold medals (team, all-around and floor) one silver (pommel) and one bronze (parallel bars) at the Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth Games, Whitlock has plenty to choose from in Australia in 2018.
“I competed five days in a row. That taught me a lot, with my body, how to recover during competition and how to keep pushing,” he says.
But despite officially keeping his options open at this stage with regard to defending all three of his titles, the 24-year-old did profess that the Games are “coming round really, really quick” and that he is likely to focus on floor and pommel – with those “major upgrades”, of course.
One thing the Gold Coast won’t see however, is “The Whitlock”. The Englishman has made no secret of his intense desire to get his name in the gymnastics skills book via a signature pommel move but the Games are just too soon.
“I have been working it but it will take a long, long time,” he says, before adding swiftly, “I really believe I can do it.”
Whitlock has two ideas for such a feat, one of which, it can be revealed, is to take the air-flare floor move and put it on his beloved pommel.
“It is a risky move, a dangerous move but I am hoping if I can get it, it will be the highest-value skill ever done on pommel,” he says seriously.
“That is my target. I want to revolutionise pommel, it’s my favourite piece and my focus.”