Whitlock misses out on history by narrowest of margins

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Max Whitlock missed out on making history by the narrowest of margins at the World Gymnastics Championships in Doha when he was pipped to pommel gold by China’s Xiao Ruoteng.

A tiny error made all the difference for Whitlock, bidding to become the first British gymnast to win three consecutive world titles, as he tied Ruoteng on 15.166 but missed out on gold due to a lower execution score.

Nevertheless his silver medal completed a timely return to form for the double Olympic champion, who had also been denied gold at this year’s Commonwealth Games and European Championships.

Max Whitlock
Max Whitlock came agonisingly close to a third world gold (Vadim Ghirda/AP)

“I’m not going to look at it as a negative. I can take a lot of confidence from how things went this week. I didn’t fall off or muck up, it was a tiny error that cost me and that’s the thing with gymnastics.”

Xiao, who was deposed as world-around champion by tie-break on Tuesday, had set the bar high for Whitlock by nailing a routine which drew a significantly higher score than his own qualifying mark.

Responding to the challenge, Whitlock decided to add a small extra element to his routine but grazed the pommel, forcing him to change his mind mid-routine and costing him the one tenth that would have been enough for gold.

“It’s all about the tiny margins that can take you off the top spot,” added Whitlock. “I knew he’d made a big score so I decided to go for a double, but I did a single instead and that’s why my mark dropped.”

Despite going home without the title he has held since his historic first world title win in Glasgow in 2015, the form which enabled Whitlock to reach the top has re-emerged this week in Doha and he can look towards Tokyo 2020 with renewed confidence.

Missing out on retaining his world title via a tie-break is a far cry from Whitlock’s issues at the European Championships in Glasgow in September, when he fluffed his lines completely, standing up on the pommel and missing out on a medal.

Whitlock will continue to work on improving his floor and pommel routines in the near future, although in reality he will add apparatus – likely the high and parallel bars – in order to be competitive for the Great Britain team in Tokyo.

“I’m training on the high bar and parallel bars behind the scenes but it’s about stepping up the execution on pommel and floor first and foremost,” added Whitlock.

MAx Whitlock
A tiny mistake cost Max Whitlock dear (Vadim Ghirda/AP)

Becky Downie suffered more agony in her quest for a first major individual medal, after she fell midway through her uneven bars routine and finished seventh of the eight finalists.

Downie, who has returned from 18 months out due to injury and is soon to undergo another ankle operation, vowed she would risk a difficult routine which could have forced her way into medal contention.

Qatar Gymnastics World Championships
Nina Derwael of Belgium claimed gold on the uneven bars (Vadim Ghirda/AP)

“If I’d done the easier routine it might have been enough today but being put up first I had to go with that risk. I know I have a strong routine but at the end of the day there’s no point having the best routine if you can’t do it in competition.”

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