I’m done – Max Whitlock announces Paris Olympics will be his final competition

By Sports Desk April 10, 2024

Max Whitlock has announced this summer’s Paris Olympics will mark the end of his glittering gymnastics career after more than two decades of history-making moments and “muck-ups”.

The 31-year-old, who has won three Olympic gold medals and three world titles, says he no longer fears life beyond the competitive side of the sport which drove him to become one of the greatest British athletes of his generation.

And whether it involves his quest to extend that remarkable legacy, or to win games of ‘Pick a Pair’ with his five-year-old daughter Willow, who will watch him at an Olympics for the first time in Paris, Whitlock’s competitive fires continue to burn as ferociously as ever.

“Working towards that end goal of my fourth and final Olympics is so exciting, and it will hopefully put me in a position to push the boundaries further, and make this final chapter the best it can possibly be,” Whitlock told the PA news agency.

“To have the opportunity to do that in front of Willow feels amazing. I always said I wanted to continue until she was old enough to watch me in competitions, and I love that she will get that chance in Paris.

“I get the feeling Willow is mega-proud. She loves going round telling people I’m the Olympic champion, and she thinks I win everything. Even when we’re playing ‘Pick a Pair’ together, my competitive instinct doesn’t stop.”

Whitlock’s almost decade-long career as a global champion, starting when he edged out pommel rival Louis Smith to become Britain’s first individual world champion in Glasgow in 2015, has masked periods of struggle and self-doubt.

“I’ve mucked up more times than a lot of people think,” insisted Whitlock, who missed out on a medal most recently at last year’s World Championships in Antwerp, where he came off the apparatus midway through his final routine.

“I’ve been to so many competitions, so many European Championships, where I’ve not been able to achieve what I wanted.

“But what it does is it massively hones you, it focuses you to go back into the gym and work on fixing things. Sometimes, it’s those mistakes that get you in the mindset to get where you want to be.”

Whitlock won two Olympic gold medals – on floor and pommel – within two hours on an unforgettable Sunday afternoon in Rio, as well as defending his world crown in Montreal and Stuttgart in 2017 and 2019 respectively.

But his fondest memory remains his first significant step on the global stage at London 2012, where he was part of a history-making bronze medal-winning men’s team and also took individual bronze on pommel, paving the way for his future exploits.

“London was such a big thing for me, to be completely doubted but to come away with those bronze medals, and it gave me the motivation and inspiration that I could go on from there and compete anywhere,” recalled Whitlock.

“I was approaching my prime and I felt invincible. The four years after London were amazing because it was about seeing how far I could take it. I felt like I was floating. If I hadn’t made London, my career might have turned out very differently.”

Whitlock’s third Olympic gold, in an almost empty Ariake Arena in Tokyo, preceded 18 months of soul-searching, during which he privately struggled with the concept that his competitive career was drawing to a close.

Almost three years on, however, his growing family and flourishing business, rolling out bespoke gymnastics courses for children, have given Whitlock renewed confidence that life without the constant calling to improve and excel can be equally rewarding.

“I feel like I’ve learned from the hard-stop of the Tokyo experience, when I was adamant that I was never coming back,” continued Whitlock.

“A lot of things weren’t really ticking the box. I had nothing to wake up to in the morning and think, ‘I’m going to work hard to try to achieve this.’ I’ve said I felt like a waste of space. But it’s different now.

“I’m equally passionate about the business I’ve set up, that creates a massive impact among young children, and the two complement each other because the enthusiasm I get from that is helping me have a really positive outlook in the gym.

“I know deep inside that Paris 2024 feels like the right time to say, ‘I’m done’. For 24 years I’ve been pushing to do everything I possibly can.

“I’ve got one final opportunity to grab, and I’m going to give it everything I’ve got.”

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