Tokyo 2020: Max Whitlock qualifies for Olympic final

Max Whitlock in qualifying action on the pommel horse
Max Whitlock in qualifying action on the pommel horse Credit: PA Images

Defending champion Max Whitlock safely negotiated the nerve-racking qualification process at the Ariake Gymnastics Centre on the day one of his sport's biggest stars bowed out.

Whitlock has often acknowledged the inspiration he has gleaned from watching the career of Kohei Uchimura, the Japanese great who came into his home Olympics as a double defending all-around champion hoping for one last gold before retirement.

But the 32-year-old Uchimura, forced to target a single apparatus for his swansong after battling a succession of injuries, fell from the horizontal bar midway through the qualification process, bringing his illustrious career to an unfortunate end.

"I don't usually watch the other gymnasts but I couldn't really not notice Kohei on the high bar," said Whitlock, whose pommel score of 14.9 sent him safely through to the individual apparatus final.

"It's a huge shame for him in his home country, especially because in the warm-up gym he has been looking amazing. It is so difficult coming out to do just one piece, and I've only just begun to realise that over the years as I've become more of a specialist myself."

Whitlock, 28, who trains in South Essex, came third in his qualifying group behind Ireland's Rhys McClenaghan, whose morning score of 15.266 led the field with one further qualifying rotation still to go.

And he admitted afterwards that nerves are inescapable when five years of hard work, which have included both world titles and major disappointments on some of his sport's biggest stages, boil down into a two-minute process when he is required to get everything right.

"I can say on behalf of every gymnast that qualification is the hardest and most nerve-racking thing ever, because everything rides on it," added Whitlock.