Pressure for gold all internal as Olympic journey takes me full circle

Max Whitlock is targeting more Olympic glory in Paris (Picture: Getty Images)

When the calendar turned to 2024 and you suddenly find yourself in an Olympic year, there is no doubt things get ramped up significantly.

It’s a position I have been in three times before and you have to use the fact the biggest show in the world is now on the horizon positively and to help fine-tune your focus.

I am making sure I’m ahead of schedule. I have learnt to take it one step at a time where an Olympics is concerned and keep future targets at the back of your mind. There is plenty still to come before the Games.

For me, that means my first two championships of the year – the English and then the British – in March and trying to make a good, solid opening to 2024.

My aim is to get everything right and that began with a slow tapering of training from the start of the new year and I’m really, really pleased with where I am at.

I have come to know my body more as time has gone on and I do know now recovery is ten times more important to me than it was previously. I’m always looking for more data on my body to help me assess where I’m at.

I’d like to think, compared to my three previous Olympics, I am more in control this time. Back in London 12 years ago, I probably felt a lot of internal pressure, as well as the obvious excitement of a home Games, which was also my first.

I was told it wasn’t my cycle so I guess I had nothing to lose as I won my first two Olympic medals, both bronze, in London.

Four years later, it went from internal pressure to external pressure in Rio. In Tokyo three years ago it was a completely different ball game, competing at an Olympics delayed for a year by Covid.

Max Whitlock celebrates with his pommel horse gold medal in Tokyo

Max Whitlock celebrates with his pommel horse gold medal in Tokyo (Picture: PA)

Now, I feel like I’m more chilled but also fired up to get the most out of myself in Paris. I’m 31 and gymnasts’ careers are supposed to be done by this point but I feel I can not just acquit myself well this year but go on for as long as I can in the sport.

I see 2024 as a challenge. Can I still do what I could when I was 19? There is certainly more to prove to myself this time so it feels as if things have gone full circle and now the pressure comes from within, for me to see just what I can do in my 30s.

I had to think: how can I make my habits healthier and get the best out of myself? I really want to see how far I can push myself at this age.

Everything gets harder when you get older as a gymnast and I also have a life outside of the sport, which I didn’t have when I was preparing for London in 2012.

I have two start-up companies, a wife and a young daughter, so this really is a different ball game now. I think I use my time wisely, though, and have plenty outside of gymnastics to keep me fresh when I’m not training.

It would have been so easy for me to stop after Tokyo, and I did, but on reflection I realised that retirement wasn’t me, not who I wanted to be.

I already feel I have surpassed what I thought I could do when I set out in the sport and I have the love for it again. Gymnastics is such a huge part of my life and I have learned to embrace that.

Getting back into it in this Paris cycle made me think anything I can do now is a bonus and comes minus an external pressure to an extent as I have achieved so many dreams at the Olympic Games over the years.

I also have the knowledge I won the World Cup event in Paris last September and have produced some of the best pommel horse scores over the last year, the results I know back up my belief I can win gold again.

I feel extremely lucky and hopefully the way I have looked after myself pays off in this build-up to Paris. I know this is a big opportunity to show that age is not important, gymnastics has changed and you can go on beyond conventional expectations. Bring on 2024.

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