Max Whitlock: Olympic champion felt like a ‘complete failure’ after thinking about retiring

Max Whitlock: Olympic champion felt like a ‘complete failure’ after thinking about retiring

Max Whitlock
Max Whitlock could make history at the Paris Olympics

Three-time Olympic gold medalist Max Whitlock says he “felt like a complete failure” when he contemplated quitting the sport after the Tokyo Games.

He said his praise “didn’t matter” because he couldn’t see a clear path for his future.

With his driven, goal-focused mindset gone, the 29-year-old said he “struggled” with his mental health.

“Never in a million years did I think I would feel this way,” he said.

Whitlock earned two gold medals in Tokyo in 2021 to add to the gold and bronze she won at the Rio 2016 Games and two bronzes achieved at London 2012. Her other honors include four European Championship golds, four World Games golds, Commonwealth and three golds at the World Championship.

After some time off after Tokyo, the Team GB star decided he was done with the sport.

But after speaking about her struggles and thinking about the example she wanted to set for her three-year-old daughter Willow, Whitlock has confirmed that she is now targeting the Paris Games in 2024.

Speaking to BBC Breakfast, he said: “As a gymnast throughout my entire career, I always looked forward and never looked back.

“[My results] they were amazing, but it didn’t matter because I was looking at my next target.

“Moving forward, that’s what mattered, and that’s [when] I felt like a complete failure because I couldn’t see it clearly.”

Whitlock is now back in training after taking a break from the sport after Tokyo, missing the 2022 Commonwealth Games, where he worked as a BBC pundit, and next month’s World Championships in Liverpool.

‘It’s important to talk to people’

Whitlock said he began to feel “completely lost” after the Tokyo Olympics.

“I fell into a place, into this rut ​​where I just lost all motivation for everything,” he said. “I felt sluggish every day. I was in this place where I just didn’t want to do anything.

“I even had my blood work done because I felt horrible every day. The blood work came back and I was absolutely fine. I think that’s what showed me that it was all in my head.”

He recalled sitting at home, getting angry while talking to his wife Leah, and feeling like a “complete waste of space.” Whitlock added that although he couldn’t “understand” how he felt he, Leah and others around him were concerned.

“A lot of people say it, talk to people, say it, help,” he said. “But I guess I’ve never been that person. I’ve always been the person who stays inside and keeps going. I’ve [that for my] my entire career of almost putting on a mask.

“I think when I started talking to Leah or started talking more to my parents and people around me, I started realizing how I felt.”

‘It would have been resign, not retire’

After Tokyo, Whitlock said she was “adamant” that she was ending her career in gymnastics.

But he said it was the idea of ​​explaining the decision to his daughter Willow in the future that made him decide to continue.

“It wouldn’t be retiring,” he said. “It wouldn’t be just stopping for any reason like that. It would be giving up…

“[Willow] would obviously admire what I’m doing. Ten or 20 years later, if I was explaining my career to Willow and said I did this and that and then stopped after Tokyo, I think her next question would probably be why did you stop? And I wouldn’t want that to be because I’m afraid of failing in Paris.”

Max Whitlock with his daughter Willow
Max Whitlock says his daughter Willow gives him a new perspective

A return to the gym

Whitlock is aiming for more success – and history – at the Paris 2024 Games. If he can win a medal on the pommel horse, he will become the first gymnast to do so at four consecutive Olympics on the same apparatus.

He said getting back into training has been “tough” after a year away and he is aware of the challenge he faces.

“Any time off takes you a long, long time to come back,” he said. “But I’m excited, like I’m really excited about the challenge. I feel almost refreshed. I feel like I’ve almost reset everything and I think the fear of failing is gone.”

“The nerves, right now, are gone. The weight off my shoulders is gone, I think because I got into the mindset that I’m done and I’ll be back.”

“I have new reasons. I’m doing it for Willow. I’d love for everyone to come to Paris and have a chance to see it.”

“To see where I can go, to see if I can make that history, if I can make a fourth Olympiad. But just to almost prove to myself that I can do it and also to show Willow a message to never give up.” .

“I think that’s what helped me move forward without that fear of failure that is powerful. If I had continued like this, there would have come a point where everything would come crashing down and fall apart.”

helping others

A goal for Whitlock now is to help other athletes feel the same way he does.

“This is a big shock for me,” he said. “Huge. I couldn’t believe it. Now I feel like I almost came out the other side and saw the benefits of even going through that stage.

“I’d love to help athletes because it’s so common. I’d love to help people in general just to go through something like this. I’d love to see if there are ways I can help people in that because starting from myself, I fought I think the people [would] I never thought I would go through that feeling.”

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