Three years after winning an historic world gymnastics gold medal in Glasgow, Max Whitlock is set to return to the same city with renewed intent to prove that he remains the unassailable master of his craft.
The double Olympic champion suffered a rare setback at the Commonwealth Games in February when he was beaten in his favoured pommel event by the confident 18-year-old Rhys McClenaghan of Northern Ireland.
The pair will renew their rivalry at the European Championships in August after Whitlock was named in a 10-strong Great Britain senior team for the event, although triple Gold Coast gold medallist Nile Wilson misses out through injury.
“You might say it was a blessing in disguise because I never thought I could learn so much from one competition. It’s taught me more about coping with pressure and it’s made my vision so much clearer.”
Returning to Glasgow will create a special feeling for Whitlock, who was crowned Britain’s first men’s world gymnastics champion in 2015 and used that breakthrough to go on and claim his stunning double success at the Rio Olympics.
McClenaghan admitted he had been inspired by watching Whitlock’s success in Brazil and the sudden emergence of the Northern Irishman has added a fascinating extra dynamic to the Glasgow event.
The teenager was the first man in over three years to eclipse Whitlock in a senior competition on pommel, and his subsequent social media posts – in which he vowed to go on to dethrone the Englishman at the next World Championships – will have only served to help reignite Whitlock’s ambition.
“People react differently to success and failure and that was Rhys’ reaction and that is absolutely fine,” added Whitlock. “He’s a good, up-and-coming gymnast and I enjoy any challenge but I’m not so much thinking about anyone specific.
“I’ve spent my whole career trying not to worry about what anyone else is doing because it doesn’t affect my own job in the end. It’s going to be a really tough competition in Glasgow but I see it as the ideal step in the build-up to Tokyo in 2020.”
As well as Wilson, the Great Britain team is without the injured women’s trio of Amy Tinkler, Claudia Fragapane and Ellie Downie. But Commonwealth Games gold medallists Courtney Tulloch, Alice Kinsella and Georgia-Mae Fenton are among those included.