GYMNASTICS: MAX Whitlock will continue his quest to become the world’s best pommel-horse worker when he takes on Olympic gold medallist Kristzian Berki today, writes James Colasanti.
The 20-year-old South Essex club member will face the Hungarian superstar at a World Cup event in La Roche sur Yon in France.
Berki narrowly beat Britain’s Louis Smith to pommel gold at London 2012 when both were tied on 16.066, with Whitlock claiming bronze with 15.600.
But Basildon Sporting Village-based Whitlock arrives on the back of a pommel PB 15.967 at the English Championships, and, with Smith not in action, he’ll be gunning for Berki on his favourite apparatus.
“I only found out on Wednesday that Kristzian was competing here – and it is certainly going to make it much harder for everyone else,” said Whitlock.
“Obviously I wanted to do well anyway, but now I have an added incentive in beating him.
“Kristzian is the best in the world, he’s Olympic champion, but this is the piece I am strongest on so I need to aim to beat him.
“My start score here will be 6.7 and if I can go clean I might be able to score 16, which would be amazing and it will give me a chance of beating Kristzian, because that’s what he scored at the Olympics.”
Whitlock’s coach Scott Hann said for him to get his first invitation to an A-list world competition shows that he is now a genuine star of the sport.
Hann said: “There are a couple of Chinese pommel workers who have not been invited to this, but if Max goes through his routine clean and beats Berki he can feel he is on his way to being recognised as the best on pommel.
“I’d say he’d need to also beat him at the European’s and World Championships to be considered the best, but if he keeps working hard and progressing the way he has then that’s what he should be aiming for.”
The line-up for this weekend’s individual apparatus event will include a number of London 2012 medallists including South Korean Hak Seon Yang (vault, gold), German Fabian Hambuechen (horizontal bar, silver) and Danell Leyva (all-round, bronze), who will compete against Whitlock on the pommel horse.
Great Britain will also be represented by London 2012 stars Kristian Thomas on vault and high bar, and Sam Oldham on the rings.
Whitlock is due to get underway in the pommel competition at 2.05pm on Saturday, with the top eight then moving forward to the final on Sunday.