Daughter Willow inspires dominant Whitlock
Gymnastics Artistic

Daughter Willow inspires dominant Whitlock

22 October 2019 / 11:48
When Max Whitlock realised he had won his third pommel horse gold at this month's World Championships in Stuttgart, there was one person he just couldn’t wait to share the news with.

He thought she was going to love his light-up gold medal but, when he showed it to her, she had no idea what she was even congratulating him for.

That’s because the person Whitlock had in mind was his seven-month old daughter Willow – the newest of his many adoring fans in the crowd.

She may not be able to comprehend what her dad has achieved just yet, but for Whitlock, there’s no better feeling than knowing he has already made his daughter proud.

Leaving home to compete has never been so hard for the 26-year-old but, on the flip side, finding a source of motivation has never been easier.

“Willow is everything. She gives me another reason to perform,” said Whitlock.

“I’ve always been quite a motivated person which is lucky, but you can never have enough.

“Motivation is the key to doing anything and Willow has fired me up massively. I want her to be proud of what I’ve done and that’s why we wanted to have children while I was still competing.

“She can travel the world and see what I do for real instead of just watching videos when I’m older. I want to achieve the best I can do for her. It makes it harder going away, but the feeling of coming home is amazing.

Max Whitlock and daughter Willow

“She hasn’t seen my medal light up yet. I showed her it and she really wasn’t interested, so I was a bit sad over that, but I’m going to charge it up and show it to her again and hopefully she’ll pay a bit of an interest.

“I’ve had to learn from both successes and failures throughout my career, but I’ve always had such a support network around me and I wouldn’t be where I am if it wasn’t for those people.

“My wife Leah, my coach Scott and now my daughter Willow have all played huge, but different parts, in getting me to where I am today.”

After recovering from a small mistake at the start of his routine, Whitlock went on to produce an excellent performance to upgrade his silver from last year and regain his world title, while also becoming the first British gymnast to win three world titles on the same apparatus.

A five-time Olympic medallist and multiple world champion, Whitlock is no stranger to success on the big stage, but this time around, he credits his shortcomings for helping him to rediscover his winning form.

"To be honest, I’m still a bit speechless. It still feels very surreal,” he added.

"This was such a rewarding medal for so many reasons. When all the factors add up: qualifying a spot for Tokyo, the birth of my daughter, retaining a world title – add the pressure into there as well and it’s a hard feeling to describe.

“It felt different. One of the biggest factors was 2018. I won silver in the Europeans and the Worlds and in some people’s eyes, that was a failure.

“I was trying to explain the bigger picture. I didn’t want to say I wanted mistakes, but sometimes falling short is all part of the plan. I’ve proved with this medal that my plan was right all along, and I’m delighted to come out with world gold.


“I remember someone asking me whether the feeling ever wears off and I said no straightaway. This one feels exactly like my first, but when I realise it’s my third, that’s just mad!

“One of the first things I said to Joe Fraser after he won his gold medal was: “If you’re waiting for it to sink in, you’ll be waiting for a very long time.”

“This was my seventh World Championships, but I went into it feeling like it was my first and I think that’s really important.”

Whitlock has said it time and time again – medals are not the be-all-and-end-all, but the double Olympic champion knows regaining your world title is not an achievement you can simply brush off.

He accepted falling short last year was part of his journey, but after returning from Stuttgart, the 26-year-old readily admitted that retaining his title has always been exactly what he’s wanted to do since he won his first world gold in 2015 in Glasgow.

Now he’s ticked that one off, Whitlock believes he is exactly where he wants to be on the road to next year’s Olympic Games in Tokyo.

“I do try hard not to think about medals, I really do, but since I won my first world title in 2015 and the Olympic title in 2016, a huge motivation for me has been to retain them,” said Whitlock.

“I always looked up to the likes of the three superstars – Jess Ennis, Mo Farah and Usain Bolt. The reason why is because they didn’t just get one result, they got the result, went back to the gym, and then did it again.

“Getting a result is one achievement, but retaining it is so difficult. It’s so hard to comprehend how difficult it is and that’s what I feel proud of doing in the world stage.

“I haven’t done it on the Olympic stage yet, so that’s my ambition. I’ll be making sure everything is ticked off and that I’m in prime condition going into Tokyo. Retaining my Olympic title would be the absolute dream.”

Sportsbeat 2019