Max Whitlock has vowed to repel the exuberant rise of 18-year-old Northern Irishman Rhys McClenaghan as he leaves the Gold Coast Commonwealth Games with renewed desire to confirm his status as one of the greatest gymnasts of his era.
Whitlock suffered a shock defeat in the men’s pommel final on Sunday, after which McClenaghan, who beat his idol by virtue of a higher execution score, took to social media to bullishly warn: “Coming for that World title next Max…”
“I think he (McClenaghan) is obviously very confident, which is a good thing,” Whitlock told Press Association Sport. “But stuff like that doesn’t bother me, and it’s why I don’t rise to that type of thing.
“I don’t see the world title as my title. I’m very proud to have those two that I’ve won, but the next one isn’t mine. No-one’s taking it off me. World titles can’t be taken, but they have got to be earned.”
Whitlock won a gold medal as part of the England team on the Gold Coast but was left out of the medals after mistakes on his floor routine, and admitted his habit of shutting himself off from the action around him could have cost him the gold on his favoured pommel.
Ordinarily, Whitlock is advised by his long-time coach Scott Hann over potential last-minute changes to his routines in response to better-than-expected performances from his rivals.
But as Hann was not one of the two coaches accredited by the England team, he was not present on the floor during the culmination of the competition, leaving Whitlock oblivious to his opponent’s career-best performance.
“It’s a shame Scott wasn’t on the floor with me,” said Whitlock. “Obviously I don’t watch anyone else and quite often the last-minute decisions that Scott and I have made a few times now have made the difference.
Whitlock will continue to focus primarily on floor and pommel for the remainder of this year, although he and Hann remain coy on whether he will return to challenge for the sport’s ultimate prize of the all-around competition in Tokyo.
“My options are still open,” added Whitlock. “This has given me a huge motivational push. It’s exciting to go back and be really picky and try to make my pommel routine undeductable. For now at least, that’s the goal.”
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