Sports writer Nick Spencer was lucky enough to be in Rio for the Olympic Games this summer, and at a post-Games party he bumped into Team GB’s Max Whitlock. Here he talks to the bronze and two-time gold medal-winning gymnast about the success of his summer…
Team GB - sometimes the fringe benefits of being a sports journalist can be pretty spectacular. An invitation to the end of (Olympic) Games party at British House in Parque Lage, the botanical gardens in Rio de Janeiro, turned out to be to a mansion with views from the courtyard up to the famous Christ the Redeemer statue.
Among the guests were broadcasters Clare Balding and Helen Skelton, gold and silver triathlon medalists Alistair and Jonny Brownlee, assorted swimmers and boxers, and gymnasts Louis Smith and Max Whitlock, double gold medalist in men's floor exercise and pommel horse in the space of an hour on the middle Sunday.
Max has been one of the Team GB athletes supported by Fitness First and it was too good an opportunity to miss having a word, as he waited patiently in the Caipirinha queue, about his training regime and any tips for the rest of us.
“The tip I would always give to people is set yourself targets. If you do that, you’ll always have something to work towards – something to reach every time. To be honest, the reason I don’t get bored is that there is always a target to work for. I’m not just training and plodding along, I’m training because I want to make everything perfect. There is always stuff to learn and always improvements that you can make.”
Identifying weaknesses was key to Max’s success in Rio. “At the beginning of this year, I reflected on what I had done at the 2015 world championships. My weaker pieces from my scores were parallel bar and rings, so I made sure I upped my game and added a new skill in both of them. I had to get them in early this year so I could do so many competitions before the Olympic Games came round that they were perfect by the time I got here.”
It took time, he says, to realise he had what it takes to be an Olympic champion. “It wasn’t until I was about 17, 18, I started to think about what I could work towards. I did my first junior Europeans, then moved up to senior in that year and I started to think that maybe I had some potential, but I have sort of gone with the flow – competition after competition – and it has come to this point.”
Now he is looking forward to spending time with his fiancée, Leah Hickton (“She’s been amazing) and some proper time off. “I’m relaxing now. I’ll probably start again at the beginning of next year. Take it slowly, look at the new code of points, the new rules and go from there. I’ll be in the gym, obviously, in the meantime. Nothing really serious: 15 hours a week, maybe more, I’m not really sure. I’ve never been in this position before. After London 2012 I took three weeks off but this time I’m going to take a lot more.”
At the exact spot where Max and I were chatting, Snoop Dogg shot a video with Pharrell Williams for Beautiful, although they appeared to have athletic pursuits of a different kind in mind. It is the sort of place that makes you take stock, particularly if you are at the pinnacle of your profession at the age of 23. So how does it feel to be a double Olympic champion. “Surreal, really. You look at the legends who have done it before me and it’s crazy to think you got the same result as them. Yeah, very surreal.”
Fitness First is very proud of its association with Max, and vice versa. “When they supported me it was brilliant. The people I’ve worked with to get to this point has been amazing and it is just a big thank you to them.”
* The next day, Max tweeted a jaw-dropping picture of himself striking an impressive pose on the railings at the top of Sugar Loaf mountain.
Discover the pre-Olympic training routine of Max Whitlock and other athletes on our Team GB hubpage.