Max Whitlock: How Nadia Comaneci inspires me

Double Olympic champion from Great Britain shares how he has learned from researching the gymnastics legend's career.

By ZK Goh
Picture by Olympic Channel

Even as a two-time Olympic champion artistic gymnast, Max Whitlock continues to find inspiration in his predecessors.

The Briton, who won team bronze on home soil at London 2012 before becoming Team GB's first gymnastics Olympic champion with golds in the floor and pommel horse events four years later in Rio, has learned a lot from looking back through the history of his sport.

Specifically, from Nadia Comaneci, the first real global gymnastics star following her perfect 10 at the Montreal 1976 Games.

"Looking more into Nadia's kind of life, Nadia's experiences, Nadia's competitions and routines, I think that was quite inspiring to me," he explained to the International Gymnastics Federation for a video called "Olympic Talk".

"Looking back is always a good thing. It's a good way to learn stuff."

Whitlock, who at 28 is set to make his third Olympic Games later in 2021 in Tokyo, said he had looked into Comaneci's career alongside current gymnastic superstar Simone Biles's.

"I remember recently doing an interview about comparing Nadia Comaneci to Simone," he recalled. "It was quite an interesting one because I've done a lot of research on it and obviously I know a lot [about] them both.

"You know, gymnastics was very, very different back then. But it was unique; it was really different, it was really quite cool," Whitlock remarked.

Comaneci's perfect 10 in Montreal played a huge role in a surge in popularity for the sport.

"That was a kind of an era where there was a huge, obviously, boom in gymnastics. It was really interesting for me to look at that and maybe learn some bits and see Nadia's impact. What I found really, really crazy was her impact that she had then, to now, she still has a huge impact in the sport.

"Her name is absolutely -- you know, a lot of people think of gymnastics, I think they know of Nadia, they know of the perfect 10.

"So I think that was quite inspirational to kind of look back at that and do a little bit of research into that and then obviously compare it to Simone, the current number one. It was really quite a cool comparison to do," added the three-time world champion.

Max Whitock's start in gymnastics

However, Whitlock did not grow up dreaming of emulating Comaneci on the Olympic stage.

Indeed, the Briton said the Games were never on his radar as a child, either as an athlete or as a fan.

"I'd love to be one of these athletes who […] kind of watched someone in the Olympic Games many years ago and thought, that's something that I want to do," he admitted.

"But it's quite different for me, to be honest."

It wasn't until Whitlock was nearly a full-time athlete on the big stage did he start to consider the Games.

"When I was kind breaking onto the senior stage at 17 years old, I started to think about Olympics, and then started setting my targets.

"But before that, it's [not] to say I wasn't interested, but I did gymnastics, I did sport because I loved it. And that was the literally the only reason, I didn't have any of these big aspirations or anything."

The future for Max Whitlock

So what was Whitlock's motivation as an up-and-coming gymnast?

"I just loved going in and just training and trying to improve myself to be the best I could be," the Brit explained. "The thing that really drew me to gymnastics was that learning aspect, like every single day I'd go into the gym and I'd learn and do something new every time, because there's so much to learn.

"So I might be learning a new skill or might be just literally improving on that skill to progress it. And I think I really kind of thrived off of that feeling of just getting better every single time, week on week.

"I wanted more of it. I loved it. And when you're young as a gymnast, there's so much to do. So I kind of never, never really got bored."

And that love for gymnastics is what is keeping Whitlock going, and will continue to do so even after this year's delayed Tokyo 2020 Olympics.

"I'm 28 years old now. The peak age for a gymnast is like 22, 23, so I'm quite past that," he noted. "I'm still going, I'm still making teams. I'm still aiming for titles, which is one of my main motivations now.

"So I'm not stopping until I can't go any more. I love what I do."