Max Whitlock believes a fourth Olympic gold medal in Paris next year will eclipse all his previous achievements as he banks on renewed mental strength to see off a new generation of rivals.
The 30-year-old made an impressive return to international action for the first time in two years last weekend when he won on pommel in the World Cup event in the French capital.
And Whitlock says coming to terms with his longevity in the sport has given him fresh motivation to pit his wits against his much younger rivals, starting with the World Championships in Antwerp later this month.
Whitlock, who will be 31 by the time he enters the arena for his fourth Games, told the PA news agency: “A lot of people are starting to ask me about retirement and it does get a lot harder when you’re 30 and you’re competing against people who are in their 20s.
“I remember how I was feeling when I was in my 20s, I felt almost invincible in terms of the repetitions and the amounts you can do. It makes it tougher, but when results are tougher to get, it feels rewarding.
“I think a big difference now is that I’m doing it to prove a lot to myself. I want to see how far I can push it, and that’s why I feel like getting a result in Paris would be the biggest result that I’ve ever done.”
Whitlock stepped away from gymnastics after his success in Tokyo, primarily to tackle his mental health, and has made a steady return this year, falling out of medal contention at the British Championships then missing the Europeans due to a minor injury.
But having banished the “fear of failure” that he admits often ate away at major tournaments, Whitlock believes his much healthier perspective can help bridge the physical gap to his younger competitors.
“The mental side gets more important as the years go by,” added Whitlock. “One of the key learning curves that I’ve been on since the years have gone by is knowing that’s a key thing you need to get right.
“Back in the day, I wasn’t really conscious of it. I still did all that stuff but it wasn’t front and centre. That’s the big change. It’s only become more apparent and important as the years have gone on.”
Whitlock boasts an illustrious World Championship pedigree, having become the first British man to win world gold in 2015 and the first to defend it in 2017. He also won gold in Stuttgart in 2019.
He leads a five-man Great Britain squad also comprising James Hall, Courtney Tulloch, Jake Jarman and Harry Hepworth, while a five-strong women’s team is spearheaded by reigning world floor champion Jessica Gadirova.
“Last week was all about building towards the worlds so in that respect it was brilliant,” added Whitlock.
“I’m getting a lot of motivation from trying to prove people wrong, but also from proving to myself that I can still do it at 30 years old.
“I’m still pushing and upgrading, trying to make it as perfect as it can be, and I’m still thriving off the bigger challenges I’m setting myself. Of course there’s still pressure, but it’s a different kind of pressure to the fear of failure.”
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