Whitlock focusing on bigger picture ahead of World Championships

With great success, comes even greater expectation - just ask Max Whitlock.

A five-time Olympic medallist and multiple world champion, the 26-year-old pommel horse star has become accustomed to being the favourite every time he dons his spandex.

But reaching the pinnacle of his sport has also proven to be a double edged sword at times, bringing with it the burden of heightened expectation and increased media scrutiny.

World and Commonwealth silver medals last year were written off as failures while he missed out on the podium entirely on the pommel horse at the 2018 European Championships.

On the eve of his latest bid for World Championship glory, however, Whitlock insists he always remained steadfast in his belief that it was all part of his bigger plan for global domination.

“Being completely honest, for me 2018 was good but obviously it’s wasn’t as good as it could have been. In the media you will see that I failed last year as I got silvers not golds,” he said.

“It’s quite tough as an athlete to deal with that as if you told me ten years ago that I would get a silver medal at the worlds then I would have taken it, I would have been happy.

“I do see that as a massive compliment as people want you to retain your titles and that’s what I want to do at every competition, I can’t control any other factors apart from my routine.

“I think off the back of 2018 it was difficult as I always go into a competition wanting to win, but I was constantly trying to get the message across that I am looking at the bigger picture.

“I know I made mistakes last year, I’m not saying that I wanted to, but I made mistakes in 2014 - two years after London - and what I was trying to do is mirror what I did from London to Rio.”

Whitlock was already a double bronze medallist at London 2012 and the reigning world champion before his heroic exploits at Rio 2016 vaulted him into the gymnastics stratosphere.

Gold medals in the pommel horse and floor in Brazil, along with another bronze in the all-round, saw him become one of the faces of the Games - as well as putting a target on his back.

But after missing out on the top step in 2018, Whitlock appears to be peaking at just the right time and he regained his European pommel horse title in style earlier this year in Szczecin.

“I really felt at the beginning of the year at the Europeans that I had something to prove with what I was saying and that’s why coming back with the gold on the pommel was a huge relief,” he said.

“The expectation has come since Rio and it is really hard. I try and take the pressure off myself as much as I possibly can but there’s no doubt the pressure has ramped up.

“The pressure was there after 2012 but after getting gold at Rio it went up a huge amount and every championships that I’ve done since then there has been increased pressure.

“I do feel there is a responsibility to produce every time but as an athlete you’ll never be able to do that, you’ll never be able to produce every single competition every single time.

“My mission is to do it as much as I can, that’s why I prepare the way I do. I work as hard as I possibly can to be the best I can be on that day and there’s nothing more I can do.”

And with his European crown back in his possession, Whitlock is now focused on reclaiming the world title he lost in Doha last year as he looks to lay down a marker ahead of Tokyo 2020.

“This isn’t just about the Worlds, this is an even bigger one as it’s also Olympic qualification, so it’s an important one, this is where we can qualify a four-man team for Tokyo,” he said.

“That is a huge priority and the first competition day, the qualification event, is where we need to do that so we need to be ready for that and that’s what it’s all geared towards.

“I try not to think about medals too much, but it is difficult as I wouldn’t be where I am now if I wasn’t ambitious and of course any athlete wants to come away with the title.

“I do try and put that to the back of my mind as much as I can. It’s not easy as I set high standards for myself, and it’s a huge motivation for me to retain the titles – there’s no doubt about that.”