New dad Whitlock has extra motivation
Gymnastics Artistic

New dad Whitlock has extra motivation

04 April 2019 / 15:56
Max Whitlock is used to vaulting, jumping and somersaulting his way to Olympic gold - but it's the possibility of a simple pencil roll that's currently preoccupying his mind.

The double Olympic champion heads to Poland next week for the European Championships, where he hopes to kick-start his road to Tokyo 2020 with more international success.

But between training sessions and competition routines, his thoughts will turn straight back home – to wife Leah and six-week old daughter Willow.

Whitlock is leaving home for the first time since Willow, the couple’s first child, was born in February but he has an insurance policy to ensure he doesn’t miss a single thing – a strong internet connection and an iPad.

“It is only eight days away from home, which is hard, but I am just hoping I don’t miss anything. She is already close to rolling over!” he said.

“She will probably do that when I am away but I will just have to FaceTime every second I get.

“They will be staying at home this time. They will be going away with some family so Leah is not alone for the eight days.

“It will be the first time I will be away for a long period. I have brought them along to everything so far and I have never really liked going away, so this makes it so much difficult.

“It will be tough but the Europeans is a bit shorter.”

Whitlock’s mind might wonder but that’s not to say he is anything other than completely focussed on the task at hand.

After a disappointing 2018, where he finished second at both the World Championships and Commonwealth Games, and also failed to complete his pommel horse routine at the European Championships, the 26-year-old is out to prove he is still top dog on his favourite apparatus.

That’s why in the first four weeks of Willow’s life, he has hardly stopped.

There were the British Championships in mid-March and then the Superstars of Gymnastics, both of which were attended by his family, and now it’s time for the first major meet of the season.

But any thoughts of a rest after the Europeans can be quickly forgotten.

“After they’re are done, I will relax and take a break although I probably won’t get much sleep. Leah has been doing the night shift the whole time because of my training so I think it’s my turn. I owe her that,” he said.

“I have always believed in getting the balance right in terms of inside and outside the gym.

“There are too many gymnasts who are too intense and it doesn’t help them. I have always thought having more of a life outside the gym can help you inside it.

“Having Willow has been the biggest distraction possible. It has been amazing and it has put a lot of things into perspective. Gymnastics has always been a huge priority for me but having a baby is the most important thing in the world.

“The little things you obsessed with become irrelevant. She is my everything and that is all I care about.

“It doesn’t take anything away from gymnastics. If anything, it adds to it.”

Indeed, Whitlock is hungrier than ever and, with the Tokyo 2020 Games now less than 500 days away, he readily admits he wants to join the all-time sporting greats.

His plan has been in motion for two years, with his pommel horse routine radically different to the one which brought success in Rio.

He has been gradually increasing his difficulty and developing new skills and that does not come without risk. But three years on and he finally feels at one with his new routine.

“Not every competition goes to plan but those that did not work out are all part of the journey. I get some much motivation from those,” he added.

“But that is why it is so exciting. I have always looked up to the legends who have retained title after title, like Usain Bolt, Mo Farah and Jess Ennis-Hill.

“These guys just kept going and produced incredible results. To retain my title, there is a lot more to do but that is my motivation. That is where it comes from.

“Now, it is all about sticking to those routines and building some consistency towards Tokyo. This is an important stepping stone on that journey and hopefully, it can be a good confidence-booster going forwards.”

Tokyo is likely to be Whitlock’s third Games and at 26, he is already in the autumn of a career which has as short a shelf-life as any.

But the Hemel Hempstead athlete is still thinking ahead.

“I want to have five or six more years in the sport and make two Olympic Games. I want to be in Paris,” he added.

“If I can do that, then I will be very happy. I am in it for the long-term.”

Sportsbeat 2019