Whitlock left to rue error as Ireland’s McClenaghan takes European pommel gold
McClenaghan also beat the double Olympic champion at the Commonwealth Games.
Max Whitlock’s year of frustration continued at the European Championships in Glasgow when a mistake in the men’s pommel final cost him the chance of a medal and handed gold to his emerging rival Rhys McClenaghan of Ireland.
The double Olympic champion had hoped to rebound from being beaten by McClenaghan at the Gold Coast Commonwealth Games, but instead found himself having to effectively re-start his routine after an uncharacteristic error.
Whitlock, who at one point found himself stranded upright on top of the apparatus, scored 14.0, which at least avoided the ignominy of finishing last of the eight competitors, but 19-year-old McClenaghan was a class apart as he upped his leading qualification score to win with 15.3.
Instead British gold came in the more unlikely form of Dominick Cunningham, whose faultless floor routine scored 14.666 and gave him the title over established names including Russia’s Artur Dalaloyan and Artem Dolgopyat of Israel.
Birmingham’s Cunningham, who is more widely considered a vault specialist, expressed his sympathy for Whitlock, with whom he has forged a close bond since joining him on the elite GB team.
“Max has got so much pressure on him,” said Cunningham. “He’s never had that much pressure apart from Louis [Smith] growing up. It’s killing him and maybe that’s what you can see.”
So often nerveless on the big occasion, not least in winning his first world crown in the same Hydro arena in 2015 and his two Olympic triumphs in Rio, Whitlock has seemed to be missing something as he struggles to recover momentum ahead of Tokyo 2020.
But the 23-year-old continues to cut a figure that is anything but frustrated, maintaining his confidence in the long-haul process towards defending his Olympic crown and denying the pressure of outside influences.
“It’s just one of those days again and hopefully there won’t be many more of them,” said Whitlock, who had also missed an element in qualification and failed to reach the floor final which was won by Cunningham.
“I won’t obsess about this. I’m in it for the long journey. I’m hoping to go to two more Olympic Games and many more major Championships. I will use this one as motivation and to push forward towards the next one.”
Even for an athlete who claims to take little notice of his rivals’ routines, the emergence of McClenaghan, whose medal was Ireland’s first of any colour in European gymnastics history, must provide cause for concern.
The Newtonards teenager finished 14th at last year’s worlds in Montreal, but his fortunes have rocketed since, following his tight win over Whitlock at the Gold Coast with a thoroughly dominant display in Glasgow.
“It’s incredible to be crowned European champion,” said McClenaghan. “It’s been a dream to be in that final with so many great names whom I’ve looked up to since I started in gymnastics.
“The worlds is the next big goal. I said after the Commonwealth Games that my target is to get that world title, and I meant it. I will go to Doha with every intention of winning that gold medal.”
Courtney Tulloch won a third medal for Great Britain with bronze in the men’s rings behind world and Olympic champion Eleftherios Petrounias of Greece, and Turkey’s Ibrahim Colak.
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