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Pommel wizard Whitlock battles 'most nerves' ever to cap thrilling Olympic hat-trick

·3-min read
Whitlock, 28, took one step deeper into the pantheon of Team GB greats in Tokyo on Sunday
Whitlock, 28, took one step deeper into the pantheon of Team GB greats in Tokyo on Sunday

By James Toney in Tokyo

Max Whitlock produced a peerless and outwardly nerveless display to retain his Olympic pommel title - and admitted the real somersaults were inside his stomach.

Britain's greatest ever gymnast claimed his sixth Olympic medal - and third gold - with the performance of a lifetime in Tokyo.

Drawn first in the eight-man pommel final, he once again laid down a standard that no-one could match.

In a routine packed with the most impressive set of flares - his trademark move - since the Bee Gees played Yokohama, he left his rivals flailing and flummoxed.

He posted his score of 15.583 and then sat back on his chair. Exactly 24 minutes later he stood up as Olympic champion. Again.

"That's the biggest routine I've competed, the risk was very high and I can't believe it has paid off," he said after a triumph broadcast live on Eurosport and discovery+.

DOUBLE MIXED RELAY JOY, ASHER-SMITH HEARTBREAK, BRONZES IN SAILING AND BOXING - TEAM GB WRAP DAY 8
DOUBLE MIXED RELAY JOY, ASHER-SMITH HEARTBREAK, BRONZES IN SAILING AND BOXING - TEAM GB WRAP DAY 8

"The pressure was on as the first man up. I usually have three different options of routines, this time I was just all-in.

"This was the most nervous I've been for any competition I've ever done.

"Retaining titles is ten times harder than chasing, today was a million times harder.

"You know you've done it before, you want that feeling again. You watch all the medals flowing in for Team GB, you can relate to it and know your time is coming up.

"Emotions were going crazy, you never disregard any routine. I knew there were unbelievable gymnasts out there and it was a great final. We sat there and said if anyone beats it, then good on them. That was the very best I could do, I couldn't have done any more.

"I can't believe I've just done that. It's a crazy journey and when the final score came up, emotions hit me like a tonne of bricks.

"You battle with yourself in your head. I know I can do this routine, I've trained for this moment. You can just never prepare for a moment when it comes. I knew I could do it but I knew how small the margins are."

Chinese Taipei's Lee Chih Kai took silver with a 15.400 score while Japan's Kazuma Kaya claimed bronze.

Ireland's Rhys McClenaghan, who twice lowered Whitlock's colours in 2018, at the Commonwealth Games and European Championships, finished seventh after a slip.

TOKYO 2020 - ‘THE FIRST TIME EVER!’ – CHARLOTTE WORTHINGTON CLAIMS GOLD WITH HISTORY-MAKING BACKFLIP IN BMX FREESTYLE
TOKYO 2020 - ‘THE FIRST TIME EVER!’ – CHARLOTTE WORTHINGTON CLAIMS GOLD WITH HISTORY-MAKING BACKFLIP IN BMX FREESTYLE

Those defeats led some to question whether Whitlock had lost his edge, on Tokyo we got an emphatic answer about that.

And though a place in the history books is long secure, Whitlock isn't done yet. He's eyeing a third straight title in Paris and he wants the ultimate gymnastics accolade - a move named after him in the 'code of points'

"I'd like to to carry on, it's a shorter cycle that helps," he said.

"As I get older it gets harder and brings more challenges. I had three weeks off after London, three months after Rio and there's not enough time to have three years off before Paris.

"I'll have a long break and go on a few holidays and then it's back to the gym, there is more in the tank and I'd like to prove that.

"The Whitlock is still pending. I've got a skill I'd like to perform that would be something never seen before on the pommel, that's another dream to achieve."

Stream every unmissable moment of Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 live on discovery+ , The Streaming Home of the Olympics.

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