Max Whitlock proves all-around credentials but left in awe of Kohei Uchimura

Published: Thursday 11th August 2016 by The News Editor

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Max Whitlock bowed to the greatness of Kohei Uchimura after becoming the first British gymnast to win an Olympic all-around medal in 108 years in Rio on Wednesday.

The 23-year-old took bronze behind the all-conquering Japanese superstar, who retained his title and extended his eight-year winning streak after edging past Ukraine’s Oleg Verniaiev on the final piece of apparatus.

For Whitlock, who had won bronze medals in the team and pommel horse competitions at London 2012, a podium finish in the most prestigious of gymnastics disciplines proved the culmination of his rise to the top of his sport.

Whitlock said: “The all-around is obviously the toughest event because you’ve got to get all six apparatus right, and it is something my coach and I have been working very hard on since London 2012.

“I wanted to prove myself as an all-rounder and I’ve fulfilled that, and I feel complete in that target. There was a lot of pressure and it became very tense towards the end.”

No athlete encapsulates the excellence of the all-around discipline than Uchimura, who has been untouchable since taking silver in Beijing in 2008, yet against whom Whitlock was desperate to mount a challenge.

The duo, along with surprise challenger Verniaiev, swapped positions throughout before the top two pulled away, leaving Whitlock to endure a nervous final rotation watching China’s Chaopin Lin and Nikolai Kuksenkov of Russia narrowly fail to snatch third place.

Ultimately, Whitlock’s place on the podium was secured before Uchimura produced a flawless performance on the high bar which proved enough to usurp Verniaiev, the long-time leader of the competition, who paid the price for opting for a safer routine.

Whitlock, who had to bounce back from the disappointment of missing out on a team medal on Monday, added: “Uchimura has been my idol for a long time and I feel so proud to be mentioned alongside him and Oleg. He produced an amazing high bar routine on that last piece and that is one reason he’s my idol, with the amount of pressure he was under.”

Whitlock had the luxury of opening the final on his favoured pommel horse, where he is widely expected to go head to head with his Great Britain team-mate Louis Smith for gold in one of the two individual finals, along with floor, he will contest early next week.

Despite scoring marginally lower than his ranking for the team final, Whitlock fashioned a slight lead which was soon overhauled by Uchimura, but at the half-way stage it was 2014 parallel bars champion Verniaiev who had moved ahead.

A lower parallel bars score left Whitlock looking behind him to defend bronze, and a minor mistake on the floor led to some anxious moments before the judges finally confirmed he had done enough to secure bronze.

“It wasn’t so much nerves, but I made a slight mistake on the floor before I managed to recover it,” added Whitlock. “It made it much more tense before the end as I had to wait a whole rotation while people came through with good scores.

“I never knew where I was placing at all. I didn’t know any of the scores of any of the other gymnasts at any point. It wasn’t until the end when I was first up so I could then watch everyone, and it was really tough.

“To get all six pieces right is a very tough job and there was a lot of pressure going into today, but I had to take it step by step. Before I competed I just said ‘I’ve got to go for it’, and that’s what I did.”

Whitlock and Smith will be joined in the individual finals by Leeds 20-year-old Nile Wilson, who finished in an admirable eighth place after ending his rotations with a dramatic high bar routine.

Wilson, who will return to bid for a medal on that same piece of apparatus, said: “I’m so happy for Max to get the bronze because he is a massive inspiration for me – I’ve looked up to him for years.

“I said to him at the end that four years from now I’m going to be doing what he’s doing.

“It’s the third time I’ve been in there this week. I just love every second of it and I just focus on the process of the competition and my routines. I just want to show the world what I am capable of.”

Published: Thursday 11th August 2016 by The News Editor

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