The last time two-time Olympic gold medalist Max Whitlock competed in the all-around, he won the Olympic bronze medal at the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio.
“Deep down I do miss all-around if I’m being really, really honest,” he said during the World Gymnastics Championships in Doha.
Since Rio, Whitlock has only competed on the floor exercise and pommel horse. As the luck of the draw would have it, the British men started with floor. Meaning Whitlock would perform his two events back-to-back and then sit on the sidelines for the remaining four rotations.
“I did actually say to Frank (Baines) as we were going round, ‘I feel like I could do a (parallel bars) routine',” he said.
Whitlock has achieved incredible success in all-around competition. In addition to his Rio 2016 bronze, he owns three (2013, 2014, 2016) British titles and the 2014 Worlds and 2013 European silver medals.
Success as a specialist
But his accomplishments on the floor exercise and pommel horse have set him apart. Whitlock’s first major medal came at the 2012 London Games where he won the pommel horse bronze. He backed that up with double gold in Rio, taking the titles on floor and pommels.
It’s those experiences that gave him the confidence to step up and nail a world-leading routine earlier this week in Doha.
“If I look back at London 2012 and Rio as pure examples, it’s going to be very hard to get bigger than those. Especially a home Games is very rare,” Whitlock said.
“The support, the pressure, was immense, so it’s going to be very hard to beat those in terms of GB pressure."
"If you look back at those competitions, and think, if I can do that, I can do this moving forward.”
He’s moving forward in Doha after disappointment earlier this year at the European Championships, where he failed to advance to the pommel horse final, and the Commonwealth Games, where he finished second.
“It gave me loads of fire in my belly to get going again,” he said.
Max Whitlock trains at World Championship venue
Max Whitlock trains at World Championship venueWatch Olympic champion Max Whitlock's training routine ahead of the World Artistic Gymnastics Championships.
The weight of the world
It was a fire that paid off big time during qualifications at the Worlds, as Whitlock delivered under the pressure of the big lights and a big introduction. As he stepped to the pommel horse, the in-house announcer alerted the audience: the Olympic champion was next to go.
“It’s hard,” Whitlock said. “It’s really, really hard. But it’s also a nice feeling as well because my previous results have been amazing for moving forward.”
Whitlock’s pommel horse routine came on a day when athletes from Japan, the United States and Russia all suffered meltdowns. Ireland’s Rhys McClenaghan, who unseated Whitlock at the Commonwealth Games and European Championships, finished 113th after scoring just 11.066.
He advanced to the pommel horse final with a 14.966, more than three tenths of a point clear of second-placed Xiao Ruoteng.
“It was a big sense of relief. It has been a tough year in terms of results, but I’ve had to look beyond the results and really try to think about the bigger picture.”
Keeping his options open
Focusing on the bigger picture has meant Whitlock continues to train on the parallel bars and horizontal bar.
“I am keeping up that all-around fitness, as I’ve always been an all-around gymnast so I need to keep that throughout my career as that could be a detriment to my floor and pommels, as well."
That doesn’t mean fans should expect to see Whitlock adding events to his program any time soon.
“At the moment, I know I need to stick to those two pieces and really focus on making those better and better,” he said.
“My options are open, but at the moment, it’s just floor and pommel.”