Olympic champion Max Whitlock has said retaining gymnastics titles is “a million times harder” than competing as a youngster “with nothing to lose”.
The 28-year-old, from Hemel Hempstead in Hertfordshire, defended his title in the men’s pommel horse at this summer’s Games in Tokyo, taking gold for the second time in the event.
Speaking to BBC Breakfast on Monday, he described the pressure he felt beforehand, and the difference between starting out in his career and being an established gymnast.
“Actually, I feel fortunate to have gone through both stages,” he said, “so, as a youngster, really chasing with nothing to lose, just going all out and giving it my best shot, to now, trying to retain titles, I’ve realised it’s a million times harder.”
He went on: “Because I brought back gold in Rio, at the previous Olympic Games, people expected me to do the same again this time but, actually, every year that goes by, it gets harder and harder.
“It’s a learning curve every single time and the set of pressures are there massively to not disappoint – you never want to disappoint or be seen as a failure or anything like that.
“My own pressure was ramped up and outside pressure was ramped up, so that all coming together and having to wait to compete, it was difficult.”
Whitlock also said he will be taking some time off and enjoying spending time with his family.
He said he is not going to “put a timescale” on it, adding: “I’m not saying ‘I’m having this amount of time off and I’m going back in’, I think I want to wait until I’m itching to get back in, I want to wait until I’m fully motivated.
“You have to be itching, you have to feel that kind of fire and you’re ready to get back in, and we’ll see how long it takes, but I’m excited.
“For me, now is about just chilling at home. I’m so happy to be back, spending time with my family and spending time with people that helped me get to this point, and it’s all the little stuff that I think, over the last year and a half, that we’ve actually missed out on.”
Olympic gold medallist swimmer Adam Peaty appeared alongside Whitlock on BBC Breakfast, and both said becoming a father had changed their perspectives as athletes.
Peaty said: “It’s given me perspective on what’s important now. I know that my role as a father is greater than my role as an athlete, and that’s just how it is, you know, and I also want to do my best I can in this job, so that I can give him the best opportunities as well, so it’s all about perspective.”
Whitlock agreed, saying: “I think everyone says it as soon as they become a parent, that it puts a lot of things in perspective.”
He said he Facetimed his partner Leah and daughter Willow just before the final, and recalled that the two-year-old was too preoccupied playing with her cousins to talk to him.
“I think seeing that actually made me think, just go and enjoy it, and, actually, I am looking forward to coming home to my family, whether the competition goes good or bad,” he said.
A video of Whitlock being greeted by Willow at Heathrow Airport on his return from Tokyo went viral, and the toddler also joined him on an interview with Good Morning Britain on Monday August 2.
Peaty also said he is planning to take some time off from swimming, but will still be pushing himself in other areas of his life.
He said: “I love to push myself, I love to be challenged and to be uncomfortable, because it keeps me alive.”
He added: “I think every person on this planet has a certain level of burnout, and I think it’s about asking what keeps it fresh? What keeps you motivated? What keeps you committed? I don’t want to be able to force myself through that.”
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