Max Whitlock never watches the performance of his rivals. At least not until he’s finished himself. Until then, he focuses on his own actions and all the things he can control. It seems to have been a good tactic for him over the years, but on the day of his third Olympic pommel horse final, it became obsolete.
Ahead of the final, Whitlock was named as the first man in place, an experience he had never felt before in a big event. He was already feeling the abject stress of trying to hold onto a title the world was looking for and being pushed when the opening routine only increased the stress. But since breaking onto the world stage nine years ago, Whitlock has consistently shown that his success is driven by rare mental toughness. He did it again, outscoring the peloton to defend his Olympic gold on pommel horse with supreme routine that scored 15.583.
With his third Olympic medal and sixth overall, Whitlock is the first man in over 30 years to retain a pommel horse title at the Games. It further increased a level of dominance rarely seen in modern gymnastics on a single apparatus, underscored by an incredible rate of successful routines in the major finals. He has now won gold on pommel horse at the last five world championships and the Olympics. The one time he didn’t win, he still produced an identical score to the winner, Xiao Ruoteng, but lost the tie-break.
As Whitlock spoke with reporters in the mixed zone afterward, a gold medal around his neck and a small bouquet of flowers from the medal ceremony clutched in his hands, he was clearly still in shock at the level. courage he was showing. He said he spent the morning completely stressed out by the looming final and that it was the most nervous he had ever been before any competition in his life. He blamed it on trying to defend an Olympic title.
“What I learned this time, and I didn’t realize what [the biggest stressor] was, it is the feeling of knowing that you have already done it. This feeling of winning Olympic gold is crazy and you want to relive it, but you know how hard it is to go through that, ”he said.
On the field of competition, these nerves did not show. While there are cleaner, sleeker gymnasts than Whitlock, whose hips are even more open as they pivot on the horse and point their toes at every skill, no one hits under pressure like him. Whitlock sailed smoothly through the world’s toughest routine, rated at 7.0, moving confidently through a series of some of the toughest pommel horse skills.
After successfully completing his routine, Whitlock hugged his trainer, Scott Haan tightly. He said his first words were just ‘Oh my god’, so incredulous that he had succeeded: ‘Even when my feet touched the ground it was like’ Oh my god ‘, he said. said. “I gave Scott a hug and said, ‘I can’t believe I just did this. It’s a crazy trip, but when the scores roll in and the final score roll in, the emotions hit you like a ton of bricks.
Whitlock then had a front row seat to see the rest of the best pommel horse workers in the world, which, jokingly, was the first time he had seen a pommel final in his life. It was, however, an excruciating watch: “Emotions were literally going crazy,” he said. You never neglect routines because you never know what people are going to score. I knew there were amazing gymnasts there.
The only person who approached was Lee Chih-kai from Chinese Taipei, who won a silver medal with a score of 15.400 and held his face in his hands as he realized he was not. than 0.158. Japanese favorite Kaya Kazuma won bronze with a score of 14.900. As the routines continued, Whitlock had a moment of clarity when he realized he was actually happy with the way things were going.
“Me and Scott sat there after my routine and I said, ‘You know what? If someone beats that score, once my score is posted, good for them. Because it was the best I could do. It was all I could do. I couldn’t have done more.
As has often been the case in his career, no one has.
Whitlock has now won six Olympic medals, including three gold after his pommel horse and floor victories at Rio 2016, as well as eight world championship medals. He is undeniably one of the greatest gymnasts of his generation.
Yet in his eyes, his story is far from over. The Paris 2024 Olympics remain a clear goal even if, at 28, each year brings more obstacles and difficulties. He has yet to realize another dream of including an eponymous skill, the air flair on the pommel horse, in the code of points.
But for now, the goal is simply to rest: “I had three weeks off after London, I had three months off after Rio. There is not enough time to have three years off this time, ”he said, laughing loudly. Then he shrugged his shoulders. “But I’m going to have a long break. I would love to go away for a few vacations, enjoy it and spend time with everyone who helped me get there.