Three-time Olympic gold medalist Max Whitlock says he felt like a “total failure” when he considered walking away from the sport after the Tokyo Games.
He said his accolades “didn’t matter” because he didn’t see a clear path to his future.
With her goal-oriented and motivated mindset gone, the 29-year-old said she “struggled” with her mental health.
“I never in a million years thought I’d have the urge,” she said.
Whitlock won two gold medals in Tokyo 2021 to add to the gold and bronze she won at the 2016 Rio Games and the two bronzes she won in London 2012. His other honors include four European Championship golds, four Commonwealth golds and three World Championship golds.
After some time following Tokyo, the Team GB star decided he was done with the sport.
But after speaking out about her struggles and thinking about the example she wanted to set for her three-year-old daughter Willow, Whitlock confirmed she is now aiming for the 2024 Paris Games.
She told BBC Breakfast: “Throughout my career as a gymnast, I’ve always looked forward and never looked back.
“[My results] they were kind of amazing, but it didn’t matter because I was looking at my next goal.
“Moving forward, that’s what mattered, and that’s it [when] I felt like a total failure because I couldn’t see that clearly.’
Whitlock is now training after taking a break from the sport after Tokyo, the 2022 Commonwealth Games – where he worked as a BBC pundit – and missing out on next month’s World Championships in Liverpool.
“It’s important to talk to people”
Whitlock said she began to feel “absolutely lost” after the Tokyo Olympics.
“I fell down at one point, I lost all motivation for everything on this ride,” he said. “Every day I felt sluggish. I was in this place where I didn’t want to do anything.
“I even had a blood test because I was feeling terrible every day. The blood test came back and I was completely fine. I think that’s what proved to me that it was all in my head.”
He recalled sitting in his house, getting upset while talking to his wife Leah and feeling like “a complete waste of space”. Whitlock added that while he couldn’t “understand” how she felt, Leah and others around her were concerned.
“A lot of people say, talk to people, it helps to get out,” he said. “But I guess I’ve never been that person. I’ve always been the person to stick it out and move on. I’ve done it. [that for my] almost the entire route that puts on a mask.
“I think as I started talking to Leah or as I started talking to my parents and people around me, I started to realize how I really felt.”
“It would have been a failure to retire”
After Tokyo, Whitlock said she was “firm” that her gymnastics career was coming to an end.
But she said the thought of explaining the decision to her daughter Willow in the future was what made her decide to go ahead.
“It wouldn’t be retirement,” he said. “It won’t be to stop for such a reason. It would be to leave…
“[Willow] Of course I would look at what I’m doing. If I were to tell Willow in ten to 20 years about my career and say that I’ve done this and that and then I stopped after Tokyo, I think her next question would probably be why did you stop? And I wouldn’t want to be that because I’m afraid of failing in Paris.”
Back to the gym
Whitlock is aiming for more success and history at the Paris 2024 Games. If she wins a medal on the pommel horse, she will be the first gymnast to compete in four consecutive Olympics in the same apparatus.
He said that it was “hard” to be back in training after a year away, and he is aware of the challenge he faces.
“Any break takes you a very, very long time to come back,” he said. “But I’m excited, like I was really excited for the challenge. I feel almost refreshed. I feel like I’ve almost reset everything and I think the fear of failure is gone.
“The nerves, for now, are gone. The weight on my shoulders is gone, I think I’m done because I’ve gotten into the mindset that I’m coming back.
“I’ve got new reasons. I’m doing it for Willow. I’d like to get everyone out to Paris, and have a chance to see them in Paris.
“To see where I can go, to see if I can make that history, to see if I can make a fourth Olympic Games. But almost to prove to myself that I can do it and to show Willow the message of never giving up. .
“I think what has helped me to move forward is that fear of failure which is strong. If I continued like this there would have been a point where everything would have broken and it would have come crashing down.”
One of Whitlock’s goals is to help other athletes feel the same way.
“This has a big impact on me,” he said. “Massive. I couldn’t believe it. Now I feel like I’ve almost come out the other side and I’ve seen the benefits of going through that stage too.
“I would like to help athletes because it is very common. I would like to help people in general to go through something like this. I would like to see if there is a way that I can help people in this because of going through my mind. , I struggled I think people [would] never thought I’d go through that feeling.”