Whit­lock seals in­cred­i­ble dou­ble

Bri­ton wins first ever gym­nas­tics gold medal Smith has to set­tle for sil­ver on the pom­mel

The Daily Telegraph - Total Football - - RIO 2016 - By Oliver Brown in Rio de Janeiro

On a star­tling, stu­pe­fy­ing af­ter­noon at the Rio Arena, Max Whit­lock ended Bri­tain’s wait for a first Olympic gold medal in gym­nas­tics by win­ning two in two hours. Gone are the days when bril­liance in this sport used to be the ex­clu­sive pre­serve of iden­tikit, hot-housed gym rats from the Eastern Bloc. Bri­tain, with stun­ning im­plau­si­bil­ity, is now the ris­ing power, and it is all cour­tesy of a young man from Hemel Hemp­stead who cou­ples supreme phys­i­cal grace with an im­pla­ca­ble re­solve to carve his name among this coun­try’s sport­ing leg­ends.

There is lit­tle doubt of that now. Whit­lock has en­tered ter­ri­tory once deemed un­think­able for Bri­tish gym­nas­tics. A bronze for Beth Twed­dle at Lon­don 2012 was con­sid­ered the apex of ac­com­plish­ment. Aged 23, he is al­ready a ti­tan, per­haps even a knight-in-wait­ing, af­ter record­ing a pair of un­for­get­table tri­umphs on the pom­mel horse and floor. The pom­mel vic­tory he had dared hope for, given he was the world cham­pion on this piece of ap­pa­ra­tus, but his mas­ter­class on the floor, de­pos­ing the great Kenzo Shi­rai of Ja­pan, was a bonus of which not even he had dreamt. Whit­lock can be a ret­i­cent, even tac­i­turn fig­ure at times, but his smile would not leave him. Af­ter all, he had be­come the first Bri­tish ath­lete to win two golds in a day since 1972.

“I am try­ing to de­scribe this, and I re­ally can’t,” said Whit­lock, strug­gling to sup­press tears. “My coach and I can stand here and be ex­tremely proud. I never go into any com­pe­ti­tion think­ing about medals, but just think­ing about do­ing my job.” There is some­thing rem­i­nis­cent of Andy Mur­ray – un­der­stated, em­phat­i­cally no-non­sense – about the way Whit­lock con­ducts busi­ness. Like Mur­ray, who aban­doned Scot­land for Barcelona as a teenager to pur­sue his am­bi­tions, Whit­lock fol­lowed his child­hood coach to Slovenia in his quest to be world-class.

“You only get a cou­ple of min­utes to show what you have been work­ing on for four years,” said Whit­lock, who also won a bronze in the in­di­vid­ual al­laround event. “I Golden glow: Max Whit­lock per­forms on the pom­mel horse and is given a hug by team-mate Louis Smith (below) wasn’t watch­ing any of the other floor rou­tines, so it just hit me when I re­alised what I had done. That’s why I got so emo­tional.” He was not the only one. Louis Smith took the sil­ver be­hind Whit­lock on the pom­mel, and was a bun­dle of con­flict­ing sen­sa­tions. He suf­fers, by his own ad­mis­sion, from at­ten­tion-deficit dis­or­der and has at­tracted cen­sure more than once this year. First, he openly crit­i­cised a judg­ing panel af­ter los­ing out on the Bri­tish ti­tle to Whit­lock in Liverpool in April. He then found him­self ac­cused of sex­u­al­is­ing a teenager af­ter post­ing a provoca­tive pic­ture of a 16-year-old gym­nast to his In­sta­gram ac­count. That he feels un­fairly ma­ligned was ev­i­dent from his com­ments last night, as he lashed out on Brazil­ian tele­vi­sion at “neg­a­tive crit­ics”. Smith hails from a starkly dif­fer­ent back­ground to Whit­lock. His English mother, Elaine, sep­a­rated from his Ja­maican-born fa­ther, Claude, when he was just three, and he strug­gled to find sports that would hold his in­ter­est. He re­jected a cho­ral schol­ar­ship in favour of gym­nas­tics and fi­nally ap­pre­ci­ated, amid the ec­static tu­mult of yes­ter­day’s events here, that he had made the right choice. “It’s so many dif­fer­ent things at once, this feel­ing,” he said. “I have been speak­ing to my mum a lot this week, as I have been un­der so much pres­sure. Hav­ing got through it, I am just re­ally lost for words.”

The at­mos­phere in­side the arena had been febrile all day. Am­pli­fy­ing the noise in­side the arena was the fact that two Brazil­ian gym­nasts, in an Olympics so far de­nuded of medals for the home coun­try, seized sil­ver and bronze. For Diego Hy­polito, the run­ner-up be­hind Whit­lock, it was all too much, as he cried through­out his post-com­pe­ti­tion in­ter­views. As for Arthur Mar­i­ano, in third, he looked be­mused on the podium, en­dear­ingly stand­ing to sa­lute dur­ing God Save the Queen.

Whit­lock har­boured faint hope of usurp­ing Shi­rai, such a master of this sec­tion that he has three sep­a­rate ex­er­cises named in his hon­our. But he has shown defini­tively at th­ese Games that he is not one to be cowed by rep­u­ta­tion.

In a rare show of ragged­ness, Shi­rai stum­bled twice. Then, when the Amer­i­can Sa­muel Miku­lak planted a foot out­side the square to cue a flag from the judges, Whit­lock knew that the gold was his.

There was barely time to di­gest the feat as he stood atop the ros­trum, need­ing to es­cape to his dress­ing room and pre­pare for the pom­mel. Smith set a daunt­ingly high bench­mark, but it was noth­ing to which he was not equal. Whit­lock was lithe in his flares around the han­dles, judg­ing his dis­mount to per­fec­tion as his coach, Scott Hann, punched the air. Hann has said his pupil can de­velop one day into one of Bri­tain’s sport­ing im­mor­tals. Here, on a dizzy­ing day, was all the proof he needed.

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