Whitlock retains world title to make history
Max Whitlock rose to the occasion again as he became the first British gymnast to defend a world title with victory in the men’s pommel final at the World Championships in Montreal.
The double Olympic champion scored a huge 15.441 points, exceeding his qualification score of 15.300, and easily beating Russia’s David Belyavskiy into silver.
Whitlock, 24, had taken a gamble by adding an extra element for the eightman final, despite a bout of nerves which ended his hopes of reaching the floor final this week.
The Briton’s big decision paid off with a performance that underlined his complete dominance of the discipline, with Belyavskiy trailing on 15.100 and China’s Xiao Ruoteng third on 15.066.
Whitlock said: “It made me more nervous when I realised I could be the first [Briton] to retain a world title. It means so much every time you make history for your country and to do it again at these World Championships is a dream.
“It’s been quite a stressful build-up for me this year because I haven’t been as confident as I would have liked. So, to do this off the back of the 2015 world title and Rio last year is extra special.”
Whitlock took the brave decision to upgrade from a Single Russian to a Double Russian in his final routine, an element with which he knew he could virtually assure another gold medal, provided he pulled it off.
He added: “I decided to increase my start score because I was in the back of the arena and I could hear the scores going on. I could hear some big ones so I talked to my coach Scott [Hann] and we decided we needed it.
“It still wasn’t a perfect routine. I have got to go away and work on some bigger upgrades. But I’m so happy.”
Starting seventh of the eight finalists in a random draw, Whitlock nailed his routine to eclipse Belyavskiy, while a mistake by Oleg Verniaiev cost the Ukrainian contender the chance to threaten the lead.
Watching on, Nadia Comaneci, who scored her famous perfect 10 in the same venue 41 years ago, must have been impressed by Whitlock’s mastery of his apparatus.
He was uncharacteristically nervous in qualifying and conceded that was down to his break from the sport after Rio, which had left him racing against time to nail the upgrades he needed to keep one step ahead of his rivals.
It was one of the reasons why Whitlock paused his quest to build on the all-around bronze medal he won in Rio in order to focus solely on his favourite two pieces of apparatus.
If his new floor routine presented evident problems, it was a different story on the pommel, on which he has proved utterly dominant since he first emerged from the shadows of GB hero Louis Smith.
As it turned out, even Whitlock’s qualification score would have been enough to comfortably secure a second consecutive gold.
Great Britain team-mate Courtney Tulloch finished a disappointing eighth and last in the men’s ring final. But there will be hopes of a second medal for Britain when Claudia Fragapane goes in the women’s floor final today. The injury-enforced withdrawal of American Ragan Smith now means Fragpane will begin the final with the third-best qualifying score.
Horsing around: Max Whitlock shows his skills during the men’s pommel final in Montreal