Three-time Olympic gold medalist Max Whitlock says he felt “absolutely unsuccessful” when he thought about stepping away from the sport after the Tokyo Games.
He said that his praise “doesn’t matter” as he did not see a clear path for his future.
With his goal-focused and driven mindset, the 29-year-old said he “struggled” with his mental health.
“I just never thought in a million years that I would feel like this,” he said.
Whitlock won two gold medals in Tokyo in 2021 and added the gold and bronze won at the 2016 Rio Games and two bronze in London in 2012. His other honors include four European Championship gold, four Commonwealth Games gold and three World Championship gold.
Shortly after following Tokyo, Team GB Star decided they were done with the game.
But after speaking out about his issues and thinking about the example he wanted his three-year-old daughter Willow to set, Whitlock has confirmed he is now targeting the Paris Games in 2024.
Speaking to BBC Breakfast she said: “Throughout my career as a gymnast, I have always looked forward and I have never looked back.
,[My results] Were wonderful, but it didn’t matter as I was looking at my next goal.
“Move on, that’s what matters, and that’s it” [when] I felt a complete failure because I couldn’t see it clearly.”
Whitlock is now back training after taking a break from the sport after Tokyo, missing the 2022 Commonwealth Games – where he served as a BBC pundit – and next month’s World Championships in Liverpool.
‘It’s important to talk to people’
Whitlock said he is starting to feel “completely lost” after the Tokyo Olympics.
“I fell into a place, in this rut where I lost all motivation for everything,” he said. “I used to feel lethargic every single day. I was in this place where I didn’t want to do anything.
“I even got a blood test done because I was just feeling awful every single day. The blood test came back and I was all right. I think it proved to me that it was all in my head.”
He recalled being upset and feeling like “a complete waste of space” while sitting in his house, talking to his wife Leah. Whitlock said that while he didn’t “understand” how he was feeling, Leah and others around her were concerned.
“A lot of people say it, talk to people, take it out. It helps,” he said. “But I feel like I’ve never been that person. I’ve always been the person to keep and sort it out. I’ve [that for my] Almost an entire career of wearing a mask.
“I think as soon as I started talking to Leah or talking to my parents and the people around me, I really started to realize how I was feeling.”
‘It wouldn’t have been leaving retirement’
After Tokyo, Whitlock said he was “firm” that he was ending his gymnastics career.
But he said it was his idea to convince his daughter Willow about the future decision that made him decide to continue.
“It won’t retire” he said. “It wouldn’t just stop for any reason. It would leave…
,[Willow] Obviously I’ll see what I’m doing. Ten to 20 years later if I was explaining my career to Willow and said I did it and then I stopped after Tokyo, I think his next question would probably be, why did you stop? And I wouldn’t want that to happen because I’m afraid of failing in Paris.”
return to the gym
Whitlock is targeting 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 in four consecutive Olympics on the same equipment.
He said getting back to training after a year has been “difficult” and he is aware of the challenge that lies ahead.
“Any time off takes a very, very long time to get you back,” he said. “But I’m excited, like I’m really excited for the challenge. I almost feel refreshed. I feel like I’ve reset almost everything and I feel like the fear of failing is gone.
“At this point, the nerves are gone. The weight is gone on my shoulders, I guess because I’ve gotten into the mindset that I’m coming back.
“I have new reasons. I’m doing it for Willow. I’d like everyone to come to Paris, and have the opportunity to see Paris.
“To see where I can get to, see if I can make that history, if I can make a fourth Olympic sport. But just to almost prove to myself that I can do it and willow will never die.” I can also show the message of not giving up.
“I think it has helped me move forward without that fear of failure which is powerful. If I proceeded like this there would have been a point where it all broke down and got worse.”
to help others
Whitlock now aims to help other athletes feel the same way she did.
“It’s a huge influence on me,” he said. “Giant. I couldn’t believe it. Now I feel like I’m almost out of the other side of it and have seen the benefits of going through that stage as well.
“I would love to help athletes because it is so common. I would love to help people in general so they can go through something like this. I would love to see if there are ways where I can help people because I’m going by myself, I struggled I think people [would] Never think that I will go through that feeling.”