'Tokyo 2021 can unite the world': Max Whitlock on Olympic delay, training pommel horse in his garden and new challenges

  • Words by ITV News Sports Producer Dan Salisbury-Jones

Max Whitlock knows a delayed Olympic Games means defending his titles will be even more difficult in Tokyo but he hopes to use the extra time to inspire millions at home.

The double Olympic champion had followed the International Olympic Committee’s advice to carry on training with “great force” before this week’s inevitable announcement that Tokyo 2020 would actually take place in 2021.

Even the ever-positive Whitlock had to take a couple of days to let the news sink in before speaking publicly.

Max Whitlock knows a delayed Olympic Games means defending his titles will be even more difficult in Tokyo. Credit: PA

He told ITV News: “You know, I’m only getting older, I’ve been really open and honest over the last few years about how much of a learning curve I’ve been on in terms of how it gets harder every single year.

“Now the Olympics is being delayed, I’m going to be 28 instead of 27 in Tokyo, which does make it harder but it also brings a new challenge and I thrive off challenges.

“We’re living in a crazy time at the moment and it’s obviously gutting with the Olympics being postponed but you have to kind of look at the positives. I’m kind of grateful that it’s been postponed in a way because it could easily have been cancelled.”

Max Whitlock is hoping to defend his Olympic titles in 2021. Credit: PA

Whitlock is going to continue training daily at home, helped by the fact he has a pommel horse in his back garden.

"I need to keep motivation at an all-time high. The pommel horse is all set up so it’s something I can easily just jump on and train some gymnastics and it’s obviously handy that I can do that. It’s not the ideal training environment, it helps that the sun is coming out and it’s getting a bit warmer but it’s all we can do in this situation.

"I think everybody has to make the most of what they can do, utilise what they have around them to help them do that.”

On Wednesday he launched ‘Gymnastics with Max’ – live, free workouts on YouTube for gymnastics novices and elites.

In the current situation, tuition from the upbeat double Olympic champion is surely gymnastics’ best shot at keeping kids interested and inspiring more to take up the sport.

When he speaks about this project, it is clear he is thinking back to his own youth and imaging the joy of training with peers being suddenly ripped away because of something few can understand.

He said: “There’s millions of kids out there who won’t be able to do what they love. That’s going to training, meeting up with their friends and doing some gym. A lot of the time when youngsters get stuck into gym they get hooked and obsessed, so I know there will be a lot of kids missing that, that will be stuck at home.

“So I wanted to bring a gymnastic session live from me so they can train with me. Me and my wife Lia have put together a whole structure and session plan and we’re really looking forward to jumping on there live and seeing how many people join. Hopefully I can get kids from beginner levels, we’ll be tailoring our workouts to that and we’ll be doing a session structure for elite gymnasts so I’m trying to get the gymnastics community all together and help out there.”

His thoughts then turn to next year, when all this is hopefully over, and normality is celebrated in a way not seen since the 1940s, “hopefully the Olympics, when it does come around can kind of be a sign that the whole world can reunite again.”

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