Gymnastics: Olympic champion Max Whitlock coming to a living room near you as coronavirus deepens

LONDON (REUTERS) – Parents with captive children may wince at the “broken vase potential” of them copying Max Whitlock and using the sofa as an improvised pommel horse, but they might thank the two-time Olympic champion in the weeks ahead as he brings gym classes straight to the living room.

With Britain’s 1,200 gym clubs having fallen silent because of the coronavirus pandemic, the 27-year-old Briton, winner of the floor and pommel horse events at Rio 2016, is filling his unexpected home time by streaming lessons via YouTube.

He hopes his #Gymnastics with Max sessions starting next week can help fill the void. It is not every day, after all, you get some tips from an Olympic champion.

That’s not all, he has, with help from wife Leah and one-year-old daughter Willow, been posting daily ‘living room workouts’, although ‘scissor kicking’ off the sofa is optional.

“I think Willow is the only reason people love them!” Whitlock told Reuters by phone from his Essex home, where he has a real pommel horse on the patio.

“There are people doing really important jobs around the country now, and I would like to do more,” he said. “But I feel this way I can help, even if it’s with people’s mental and physical well-being while they are housebound.

“So I started the eight-minute workouts to give people some inspiration to break up the day. Feedback has been incredible.

“You’ve got to be creative and utilise what you have. Just keep active, keep fit and keep busy, keep some structure and keep it as close as possible to normal life.

“I’m lucky I’ve got my pommel horse in the garden and the sun’s been shining. Won’t be much fun in the rain though.”

Itching to return

Whitlock, a three-time world champion and four-time European champion, says he hopes his streamed classes can help keep the global gymnastics community connected in dark times.

“Millions of kids are missing gym like mad, missing being with friends,” he says. “So I thought it would be cool go into their homes with the YouTube live sessions. I don’t want this difficult time to ruin the buzz for the sport. I want to make them be itching to get back to the gyms when they are allowed.”

Ordinarily Whitlock would have been competing in the British trials for Tokyo 2020, but all events have been cancelled.

Before the International Olympic Committee (IOC) postponed the Tokyo Games this week, he was still geared up for July and had come up with a novel plan to maintain the focus.

“I was planning to live stream my pommel horse routines,” he said. “I thought the Olympics were going ahead. So I thought the live stream would replicate a bit of the feeling of competing, with people watching, put pressure on me.”

He still plans to live stream his practices to compensate for the lack of competition.

Initially “gutted” by the Tokyo postponement, he says it hit home to him how serious the situation had become.

“The priority now is staying safe and protecting yourself and protecting others,” he said. “Hopefully we can get back as quickly as possible.”

His biggest concern is that a year, in the life of a gymnast, is a long time.

“Instead of 27 I will be 28 and that doesn’t sound like a lot, but every year for the last three and a half years it’s got tougher and tougher,” he said. “Training is harder, recovery is harder. But my targets are still exactly the same.”

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