Double Olympic champion Max Whitlock has the world at his feet right now, but plans are already being put in place for him to continue his history-making exploits at Tokyo 2020, according to British Gymnastics men’s technical director Eddie van Hoof.
Whitlock ensured his name would forever be etched into the British record books in Rio when he became Team GB’s first Olympic champion when he triumphed in both the floor and pommel events in the space of just 104 minutes.
Throw into the mix a bronze in the all-around and Whitlock’s Olympic medal collection had suddenly expanded to a staggering five following pommel and team bronze at London 2012 four years earlier.
A well-earned holiday, wedding planning and awards ceremonies galore have since followed but the new year will bring with it a serious return to gymnastics matters for Whitlock along with his teammates.
The next 12 months will bring with it the usual European and World Championships with Whitlock the reigning pommel champion at the latter.
But while competitions changes are set to be introduced by the International Gymnastics Federation during the next Olympic cycle – the qualification process for Tokyo will be more complicated while the number of gymnasts allowed to compete for their country in the team competition will change from five to four at the next Games – van Hoof expects Whitlock to continue to lead the charge.
“We put the programme on hold until January, so that’s when everything will kick off again,” said van Hoof, speaking at the UK Coaching Awards.
“Everybody has had some time off with a break, had their downtime and enjoyed that success, and now we’re ready to start again.
“Max has achieved so much in that short space of time between London, where he too was a medallist, right the way through to Rio.
“But now the points change, the international rules change and the qualification system alters so now we have to sit down and plot what is the best strategy for Max.
“He’s keen to carry on through to Tokyo as are most of what is a fairly young team, we’ll just put the plans together and work away at it.
“The rule changes alter the team size, so the dynamics will have to be tweaked a little bit, but Max is certainly in the frame for pommel horse, but he’s that good an all-rounder that he can adapt to everything.”
With British gymnasts enjoying unprecedented success in Rio – Louis Smith won his fourth Olympic medal by taking pommel silver while Nile Wilson won a first high bar bronze for Great Britain – Whitlock is sure to be pushed all the way on the road to Tokyo.
Wilson in particular will be one to watch having climbed the Olympic medal rostrum this summer aged 20 – a year older than Whitlock was when he marked his Games debut with two medals in London.
Wilson is already a three-time Commonwealth Games champion and the reigning European high bar champion but van Hoof believes the Leeds gymnast can challenge on multiple fronts.
“For Nile, it’s just beginning,” he added. “He’s one that will be really focused on the next cycle and can be that all-rounder as well. This is very much his cycle moving forwards and he can become the backbone of the next team.
“We all knew that he had the routine to win once he won the European Championships high bar title just eight weeks before, and on the day maybe it wasn’t his best routine but he put himself in the frame and a great result has come from it.”
Van Hoof was speaking after being named as UK Coach of the Year at a glittering awards night at the Holiday Inn Hotel in Wembley on Tuesday night.
The UK Coaching Awards, organised by Sports Coach UK, is an annual celebration to honour sports coaches and coaching organisations who have demonstrated outstanding success over the previous 12 months.
Van Hoof – who was also named joint winner of the High Performance Coach of the Year – was presented with his accolades by the HRH The Princess Royal and admitted that the recognition represented the progress that has been made by British Gymnastics over the last decade.
“In gymnastics, my first coaching job came straight off the team in 1995 and we were always around 19th in the world, which was good, but to be up there with the leaders of the sport shows just how much progress has been made in the last ten years,” he added,
“Coaching has been my life. I’ve been within the sport since I was 13, I went to Los Angeles as a gymnast myself but I always wanted to make sure my coaching was better than my own performance.
“I wanted to give back to the sport and now philosophy is to leave the sport in a better shape than when I left it and helping out the coaches as much as possible is the best way to sustain that.”