AS THE World Gymnastics Championships arrived at their close last night, the British team had already drafted plans to paint the town red as a reward for a haul sprinkled with gold, silver and bronze. “I’m sure we’ll be celebrating big,” confirmed Max Whitlock, whose individual victory on the pommel horse has set a fresh benchmark for a group whose gradual ascent into the elite has been affirmed in some style over the past ten days in Glasgow.
Some letting down of impeccably coiffured hair was deserved. “The whole week has been historic,” the 22-year-old said. “Team GB is in a very good place with a lot of confidence going into next year.” Not, with an Olympic Games looming, that he or his team-mates will be allowed to tread water, nor bask too long in the glow of finishing in fifth place in the overall medal standings.
“Be Bold” is among the primary mantras within the walls of their centre of excellence. With no visible sense of trepidation, Essex’s own high-flier emerged from the shadows and into the spotlight on Saturday afternoon with a British breakthrough already assured. Louis Smith nestled atop the interim points table. Only his cohort could deny the thrice-Olympic medallist his crowning glory. Both were superlative but it was Whitlock, with a score of 16.133, who became the first male from these shores to capture a global title.
The accomplishment came scarcely an hour after he had landed silver in the floor exercise. Only Japan’s incomparable all-round champion Kohei Uchimura will leave here with a more stellar reputation.
“He’s unique,” the team’s head coach Eddie van Hoof declared. “You’ve got the example of Uchimura, who is really special. It’s phenomenal with six world titles. But Max is similar, with his ability to focus and bring his mental game because he’s not as physical as most of the gymnasts with his slight frame. You make your weak points some of your best points and get that even keel.”
In yesterday’s final session, the USA’s Simone Biles affirmed her pre-eminence by landing the beam title with a certain panache before capturing a record-breaking tenth world gold on the floor, with Britain’s Elissa Downie and Claudia Fragapane sixth and seventh respectively, while Nile Wilson was eighth in the parallel bars, won by China’s You Hao.
With international federation president Bruno Grani praising these championships as “super on every level”, attention now shifts resolutely towards Brazil in nine months time. For the UK’s hopefuls, the quest will quickly begin to find the marginal gains required simply to earn an invitation.
“There’s going to be a big battle to get into the Rio team, with only five going,” said Dan Purvis, who finished fifth in the floor final, just 0.100 away from a medal. “But that’s ultimately been the aim for the cycle. We did our main job here by qualifying. The team silver medal was a bonus. But to be part of the team again would be amazing.”