Tokyo 2020 - ‘If I can go to LA 2028, that would be incredible’ - Team GB’s double Olympic champion Max Whitlock
Britain’s five-time Olympic gymnastics medallist has achieved selection for his third Games, but although he freely admits Paris 2024 is also a goal, the 28-year-old has told Eurosport he will not rule out competing in seven years at Los Angeles 2028. Whitlock says there is “no way” he will stop if he is a contender to win titles and feels he cannot retire until he has “maxed out” his potential.
Max Whitlock says he will not rule out competing at the LA 2028 Olympics
Max Whitlock is already one of Britain’s most decorated Olympians with five medals and a history maker - but he has no plan to slow down any time soon after earning Tokyo 2020 selection to reach his third Games.
The 28-year-old became Britain’s first-ever Olympic gymnastics champion at Rio 2016 by winning floor gold, before doubling that achievement with victory in the pommel horse, his signature event.
Although many of his peers would already have retired by now, Whitlock has told Eurosport he cannot rule out making an appearance at Los Angeles 2028 as long as his body holds up and believes he is nowhere near close to realising his full potential.
“A few athletes said they would have retired after Rio if they were me, because I got the golds and people thought I’ve done it and I should try something else,” he said.
“My ultimate goal when I retire would be knowing that I’ve given it my all, every single time, and knowing that I reached my true potential because I don’t think I’m there yet.
“If I retired now, I don’t think I would have achieved what I’m capable of in terms of results and longevity. I’m realistic that I will need to stop eventually, I haven’t got that naivety that I can keep going for 15 years. But I definitely think I can do more and I’d like to look back and know that I did all I could and I maxed out my capacity as an athlete.
I'm not even looking at Paris as my last Olympics. I will look at it step by step and if after Paris I think I can do more, then great, if I can go on to LA 2028, that would be incredible. The next cycle is shorter, that helps my age, it’ll fly by.
“Paris is a huge target for me, especially with my little girl Willow, because they’re unable to come out to Tokyo, I’d love her to watch me compete in Paris.”
Whitlock is enthusiastic as ever about his future in the sport and even says his failure at the European Championships last month, when he fell during pommel horse qualifying, was an opportunity to get mistakes out of the way before the Olympics. The event was his first in over 18 months because of the coronavirus pandemic, and he says it provided an “ideal opportunity to learn”.
Max Whitlock: It is an incredible achievement
At 28, Whitlock is the oldest of a four-man team selected for Tokyo, but the three-time world champion is relishing the opportunity to lead the team.
“It’s very strange because I’ve gone from me being one of the youngest ones in the team to very quickly being the oldest - not just a little bit, by a few years.
“It’s a strange dynamic but it’s quite cool, I really like it. We can all learn off each other, this is their first Olympics but they are massively experienced in their own right.
“This is a very strong team, I have a lot of confidence in saying that, we’ve got a lot of depth and it was a tough selection process.”
Whitlock says his longevity is down to a sensible training regime which he has developed over the past five or six years. He believes it can prolong his career well into his 30s, bucking the trend of gymnasts of the past.
“I’ve watched a lot around me train like they were juniors when they were seniors, and they burned out really, really quickly.
“I’ve made big decisions in my career in terms of dropping from six pieces of apparatus after Rio, reducing what I do, reducing my hours in the gym to improve my recovery.
That’s why I’ve set my targets that Tokyo is not the end destination, I want to continue on to Paris and that’s really important for me to do that. A third Olympics is a really proud feeling but I’d like to make it four.
“I’m at the age where a lot of people have retired but I’m at a level where I’m very proud to hold the highest start value to the highest difficulty level on the pommel horse. If I can keep that, I know I’m going to go into every competition with the potential to gain a title. There’s no way I’m stopping if I have that.”
Whitlock is level with the likes of sailing legend Ben Ainslie on five Olympic medals and three off Bradley Wiggins’ all-time record of eight. With a potential three Games left in him, he has an opportunity to cement his status as a British Olympic legend.
“Adding to that number would be amazing, it’s very surreal to even think I’m considered as one of those now.
I really don’t even think about it too much, I don’t really even think about my previous results. I feel that’s a big part of me in terms of my longevity - because I don’t think about what I’ve done or what I’ve achieved to get to this point, I think about my next competition like it’s my first.
“That’s one thing that people underestimate, because a lot of athletes, gymnasts, people in general think because I’ve got one result here, the next results are easier, when actually it gets harder. I look at it as a clean slate.
“In terms of most decorated athletes and the conversation around that, I never think about it but it’s very surreal to think about being in that category.”