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What Makes A 5-Time Olympic Medallist? | Max Whitlock On Ambition, Set-Backs And Sacrifice

What Makes A 5-Time Olympic Medallist? | Max Whitlock On Ambition, Set-Backs And Sacrifice
Lauren Dawes
Writer and expert5 years ago
View Lauren Dawes's profile

This May it’s our 15th birthday and we’re celebrating 15 years of fuelling your ambition.

As part of this celebration, we wanted to champion progress — and not just our own, but the progress of all the people who have been a part of our journey; the people we’re proud to support.

One of these people is Max Whitlock MBE.

Max is a British artistic gymnast, and at the young age of just 26 he’s already a five-time Olympic medallist and six-time world medallist. He became Britain’s first ever gold medallist in artistic gymnastics when he won both the men’s floor and pommel horse at the 2016 Summer Olympics.

With a score sheet as impressive as that, we just had to find out more about the successes and set-backs that shaped Max’s journey to becoming such an icon of British gymnastics.

This is what we found out.


15 years ago, he was just about to face a huge decision

“Fifteen years ago, I was just a young kid of 11 years old, pretty much at the start of my gymnastics career. What I didn’t know at that point was that I had a very big decision to make very soon — maybe one of the biggest decisions of my career.

My coach decided to leave and go back to his home town in Slovenia, and so I found that I had a choice to make. Follow my coach and move away from my family, or quit gymnastics.

I didn’t want to stop gymnastics, so in order to continue I moved out to Slovenia to live and train there. That was the decision I made when I was just 12 years old.

I think because I was so young, getting one flight there but not knowing when I’d return, was very, very difficult. And not just for me, but for my family as well.

But it was the right decision.”


His love for his sport began at just 7 years old

“Gymnastics is incredible. For me, it’s given me so much and I truly believe it’s one of the best sports in the world.

I feel very proud and very lucky to be involved in gymnastics.

Starting as a youngster (I was just 7 years old) my love grew and grew for it, and I’m lucky that I continue to love it today — that’s the reason I’m still doing it.

It’s given me so many opportunities along the way, opportunities to do stuff I would never have done before. I feel very privileged to be in this position.”


He doesn’t believe in sacrifice

“I do get that question a lot; ‘what sacrifices have I made in order to succeed?’. Some athletes do see it as a sacrifice, I feel that’s a very strong indication of what you feel about your sport if it’s seen as a sacrifice.

For me, I’m in my sport to purely enjoy the experience. My whole career has been about enjoying the journey, enjoying the whole process and experience — and if you see it like that you’ll constantly improve.

I think that what you love doing, you do more of — and what you do more of, you get better at. That’s the motto that I stick to.”


He’s had people doubt his ambitions

“For me, ambition is everything. You know, setting those goals for yourself — and they might be goals that seem unreachable to a lot of other people.

People might laugh at those goals, which I’ve actually had in the past, but you know, if you believe in yourself, that’s the most important thing.

Being ambitious is a vital part of achieving success in the future.”


He’s dealt with set-backs — and learnt from them

“In terms of gymnastics, 2018 was a very difficult year. In the public eye, getting a silver medal at a major championship was seen as a failure — which was really difficult for me to deal with as an athlete.

It’s very, very tough knowing that in the public eye, only winning a gold is seen as a success — the pressure is ramped up massively.

But for me personally, 2018 was actually a very good year and a big learning curve in terms of my gymnastics and upping my difficulty value. I was putting so much risk into my routines and the risk factor outweighed everything else. It’s a huge motivation for me that I have more skills in my locker that I can use as a backup in the future.

What happened in that final has been a huge motivation for me to get back in the gym, to clean up my routine even more and focus on the finer details to make sure everything I do is as perfect as it can be.

I know where I need to move forward to in order to make 2019 as successful as possible. The plan and long-term goal is of course, Tokyo.”


He’s constantly striving for more

“Straight after my second Olympics in Rio, I decided to focus on two pieces to increase my difficulty level, increase my skills, and upgrade. I wanted a big challenge ahead.

Sitting here today, I know that was the right decision.

I’ve now made the decision to increase up to four pieces of apparatus, for the pure fact of helping the team — I can be a good back-up on those extra two pieces. It also helps me keep the all-round fitness, so my fitness levels should still be the same as what they were back when I was 21/22 and in my prime.

That’s my target, so that I can (hopefully) prolong my career and keep my longevity for as long as possible.


His greatest achievement has nothing to do with gymnastics

“Becoming a dad is the best thing in the world and it’s funny how your priorities change within an instant.

The whole experience was unbelievable and fascinating at the same time. It doesn’t take anything away from my sport — I love what I do and I love being able to prove what I can do to the whole country.

It’s a truly amazing feeling to represent your country and fly the flag… but becoming a dad trumps everything.”


15 years from now, gymnastics is still going to be a big part of his life

“You never know, I could still be going, still competing. If I’m still at a high level and I’m still fit, I’ll keep going. That would be quite an achievement, I’ll be an old man in the sport by then, but who knows?

I’d like to keep inspiring a generation, give a lot of opportunities back to my sport and help it grow to the next level. I feel very proud that I’m one of the guys on the team that’s helped the sport grow from strength to strength — in the last 10 years it’s come on in leaps and bounds, and it’s a totally different sport than when I started.

So, in another 15 years who knows where the sport will be, but I’d love to be on that journey.”

Want more on Max? Follow him @maxwhitlock

Lauren Dawes
Writer and expert
View Lauren Dawes's profile
Lauren is an English Literature graduate originally from the South. She’s always loved swimming, has discovered the power of weight training over the past few years, and has lots of room for improvement in her weekly hot yoga class. On the weekends she’s usually cooking or eating some kind of brunch, and she enjoys trying out new recipes with her housemates – especially since shaking off student habits, like mainly surviving off pasta. Above all, she’s a firm believer in keeping a balance between the gym and gin. Find out more about Lauren’s experience here:

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