Max Whitlock insists he owes it to his two-year-old daughter Willow to stick around for another Olympic cycle as he prepares to make his international return in Basel later this month.
Willow was just seven months old when Whitlock clinched his third pommel horse world title in Stuttgart in 2019, shortly before coronavirus hit and forced the sport to scrap its entire 2020 schedule.
When Whitlock kicks off his quest for a fifth career European gold in the Swiss city he will do so in the knowledge that for the first time Willow will be following the action on television back home in Essex.
The 28-year-old told the PA news agency: “Willow has already got her own little leotard and has learned how to do a forward roll, and she’s got to the stage where she can recognise me on the TV.
“Having Willow has 100% changed my outlook on the sport. One of the biggest reasons I wanted to have her when I was still young was so that she could travel the world with me and watch me compete in real life.
“It’s a shame she won’t be able to come to Tokyo this time, but she is a huge push for me in terms of trying to go on at the top level of the sport for as long as I can, so she can watch me in the biggest competitions.”
Whitlock swept to double gold at the Rio 2016 Games but has subsequently scrapped his individual floor routine, and will be fully focused on continuing his domination of the pommel apparatus towards the Tokyo Games.
He believes a way of securing longevity – and his legacy – at Paris 2024 and beyond is by cutting down his competition and training schedules and not compromising on his quest to remain at the pinnacle of the sport.
“I would never just want to fade out,” added Whitlock. “I’m quite realistic in that I know if I get to the point where I don’t feel like I can improve, then it will be time for me to stop.
“I look back at the choices I’ve made in terms of reducing from six apparatus to one, and I believe I made that choice at exactly the right time because my mindset has always been one of improvement.
“I’ve got a lot more targets I want to hit so I don’t see myself retiring after Tokyo. I want to go to Paris and just because I’m getting older that doesn’t mean I’m not going to be able to continue improving.”
Whitlock spent much of the lockdown seeking to replicate the competition environment as well as hosting a number of work-out sessions on social media aimed at sustaining the fitness levels of those locked out of the sport.
Meanwhile, escalating abuse allegations, culminating in an ongoing independent review commissioned by UK Sport and Sport England, have, Whitlock believes, made cultural changes in the sport imperative.
“Something like this (athletes speaking out) needed to happen in order for the sport to move to a different level,” added Whitlock.
“Those gymnasts have come out and they have been brave in doing what they have had to do, and it is a really important part of the sport becoming a greater place to be.
“It is trying to make changes – new structures are being put in place and they (British Gymnastics) are listening to the athletes a lot more, asking our advice on different stuff, and trying really hard to take this step.
“Hopefully in taking this step now, with these athletes speaking out, it will mean the sport is in a stronger position in 10, 20 or 30 years’ time.
“I believe gymnastics is the best sport in the world and it can have a hugely positive influence in so many ways. Anything I can do to help this process, I will obviously 100% be there.”