Friday 28 October 2016

Max Whitlock delivers historic double gymnastic gold for Great Britain

Mark Staniforth

Published 14/08/2016 | 21:41

Max Whitlock (GBR) of Britain (L) poses with his gold medal on the podium. REUTERS/Mike Blake
Max Whitlock (GBR) of Britain (L) poses with his gold medal on the podium. REUTERS/Mike Blake

Max Whitlock took less than two hours to achieve twice what no British gymnast had previously managed in 120 years in Rio on Sunday.

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The 23-year-old grabbed gold in the men's floor event and followed it up by pipping his team-mate Louis Smith in a thrilling finish to the pommel horse final.

Whitlock, the 2015 pommel world champion, had been tipped to become the first British gymnast to stand on top of an Olympic podium.

But few believed he would clinch double gold with two nerveless performances which underlined his status as one of the finest male gymnasts in the world today.

Whitlock scored 15.633 on the floor then watched as the favourites including Kenzo Shirai and Samuel Mikulak both made mistakes that left them out of medal contention.

Instead it was two Brazilians, Diego Hypolito and Arthur Mariano - who completed the podium places, to the delight of the home crowd.

Whitlock was cheered onto the podium to collect his historic gold medal while the Brazilian pair milked the acclaim of the crowd.

After a brief pose for photographers, Whitlock was ushered away to prepare for the pommel and he came back refreshed and clearly ready for more.

Starting fifth of eight finalists, Smith led the way with a score of 15.833, until Whitlock eclipsed him with 15.966 with one more athlete to go.

And when Russian Nikolai Kusenkov summoned an unspectacular routine, gold and silver for Whitlock and Smith were assured.

The pair embraced before being led out for their medal ceremony on an historic day for the domestic sport.

It was the fourth Olympic medal of Smith's career while Whitlock's historic golden double takes his own career Games tally to five.

Whitlock's feat was all the more remarkable for the fact he had to recover from a bout of glandular fever shortly after becoming Britain's first male individual world champion in Glasgow last year.

The illness forced him to miss the European Championships and cast some doubt over his ability to fully recover in time for the Rio Games.

The doubts were not entirely assuaged by Whitlock's solid but unspectacular performance in the men's team final, in which they narrowly missed out on a medal.

But a consistent display in the all-around competition resulted in him becoming the first British man to reach the podium in the sport's most prestigious category.

Yet that achievement paled into insignificance when compared with Whitlock's achievement in the Rio Gymnastics Arena on Sunday night.

A jubilant Whitlock told the BBC: "I have completely outdone myself, standing here. I am very proud and it's incredible.

"I never go into competition expecting to get a medal, I go in to do my job. Hours and hours, years and years in the gym come down to one minute. I am so happy.

"I had to refocus (after the first gold). I had another job to do. Now I can take both of them in at the same time. The emotion hit me when I realised what I had done."

Smith savoured his silver medal.

He said: "To be here is brilliant in itself, to have messed up the team final, I was dealing with a lot, emotionally and mentally, to come and do that, it means the world.

"So many different things, the amount of pride I am feeling right now, my mum didn't come out but I've been speaking to her every day, she's been worried sick to see me under that pressure and it means so much.

"I've been in the sport two decades now and I don't know if this will be my last Olympics."

On Whitlock's amazing gold medal double, Smith added: "He's incredible and has been an absolute star."

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