Max Whitlock defends Olympic pommel horse title for Team GB

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Max Whitlock took on all-comers again to defend his Olympic pommel title with a nerveless display in Tokyo.

Whitlock was the first of eight to compete in the final and posted a score of 15.583 to set the standard.

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

Ireland’s Rhys McClenaghan, who beat Whitlock at the 2018 Commonwealth Games and European Championships, finished seventh after a slip.

Whitlock, 28, from Hemel Hempstead, said:

“I feel absolutely lost for words, I can’t even describe the feeling.

“I feel completely overwhelmed and it feels very surreal.

“Team GB have been doing absolutely incredibly, the gold medals have been flowing in and I just wanted to do the same thing.

“Coming out here and getting my own, I feel very proud.

“It’s a million times harder [to retain the title] and I knew that going through. The pressure was there and I could really feel that.

“This is probably the most pressured environment I’ve ever been in. This morning I felt that, and I’ve always said that chasing is ten times easier than retaining.

“I’ve learnt that throughout my journey, I’ve been fortunate to have learnt that, being in this position, going into this competition.”

Whitlock’s Olympic journey began at London 2012, winning both team and pommel horse bronze at his home Games.

Four years later and the top step of the podium was his, winning his first pommel title while also winning gold on the floor.

Whitlock elected not to defend his floor title in Tokyo, instead focusing on the pommel horse and the men’s team event earlier in the Games.

Competing first brought its own challenges – and opting for his hardest routine was a decision that certainly paid off.

He added:

“I was only getting older, experience pays a lot on situations like this and I’m just incredibly happy, incredibly thankful for the journey we’ve been on to get here.

“It’s been a crazy one, I can’t quite believe it.

“Going out first is hard, if you talk to any gymnast, they know going out first is really difficult.

“I have different options for my difficulty level and my routine, going first takes away all the options of that.

“We knew we had to go all out and lay down a good score, I couldn’t watch the scores – that was the biggest routine I’ve been training for and the biggest routine I’ve ever taken on a big stage.

“For it to pay off, first up, feels huge. I couldn’t believe I did it.

“I wasn’t fussed initially about the result. It was more than I did the job, it’s been a long journey to get here, I scored nearly my target score and I couldn’t have done any more.

“If someone had beat it, they beat it – I did all I could do.”

Boasting six medals from three Games, only cyclists Sir Bradley Wiggins, Sir Chris Hoy and Jason Kenny can lay claim to more than Whitlock’s haul.

Not bad for a gymnast whose love the sport has been front and centre of his Olympic journey.

He added:

“It’s surreal. If you’d said that to me as a youngster growing up, I would never have believed you.

“I never thought about the Olympic Games as a youngster, I did the sport because I enjoyed it, that’s the reason I’m still here doing what I do.

“I’ve loved every single part of it. There’s been hugely challenging parts, without a doubt, but adding another medal to that feels very surreal.”

Source: Team GB

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