THE success story of British gymnastics continues to add enthralling and glorious chapters. Seven years after his breakthrough bronze at the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing, Louis Smith claimed silver on the pommel horse at the world championships in Glasgow last night but, ultimately, found himself vanquished by a compatriot.
Max Whitlock, a picture of intensity and focus as he swished back and forth, was last to enter the fray at the Hydro Arena but he delivered a performance worth waiting for as he won Great Britain’s first gold in the event. Never before has a male from GB scaled such heights. His score of 16.133, one-tenth above Smith’s mark, was reward for perseverance in the dark days of last winter when glandular fever left him frustrated and fatigued. Having secured silver in the floor exercise barely an hour before, once again, mind had to cajole body. “It’s been a long week,” he declared. “I think I’ve done 20 routines. But it has been well worth it. To pull it off at the end is amazing.”
Smith would have been equally deserving. Best known to the wider public for his artistry on Strictly Come Dancing, he remains a figure of elegance after re-dedicating himself following a lengthy hiatus post-London 2012. As Rio 2016 looms, there is more to come, he promised. Whitlock, perhaps, was a little readier.
“Max was always the one, if every-one went through their routines, it would be close between me and him,” Smith acknowledged. “But I’ve been playing catch-up ever since I got back from two years out. Everyone has improved. This was a show of that.”
There is no doubt these championships can be judged a success. Sporting theatre of genuine global import. Here, the finest exponents were on hand, up close and personal, not just within the arena but accessible too for the throngs of selfie hunters at the stage door.
Such enthused support has been matched by additional scrutiny but it bodes well for the furnace that awaits in Brazil next summer. “It’s a home worlds, you want to deliver,” said Daniel Purvis, the Scot who signed off with fifth place on the floor as Japan’s Kenzo Shirai took the title for a second time. “But this has probably been my best world championships to date. To get the historic team silver was fantastic. That was our main aim coming into this. And I’m so happy to get it.”