AFTER months of anxious waiting, Hemel’s Max Whitlock finally took his place on the greatest sporting stage on earth – and the agile Adeyfield athlete seized the moment to secure an Olympic bronze medal.
Max, 19, wowed the judges alongside his Team GB men’s artistic gymnastic teammates, and the quintet delivered in style to land the medal with a series of stunning performances.
Despite knowing that the weight of Britain’s expectations were on his youthful shoulders, Max excelled on the pommel horse, vault, parallel bars and floor to help ensure that the GB team took bronze.
The team, made up of Max, Louis Smith, Sam Oldham, Kristian Thomas, and Dan Purvis, initially thought they had clinched the silver medal – until the Japanese team launched an inquiry and were eventually awarded silver, bumping Team GB back into third place.
The Japanese were unhappy with the pommel horse score awarded to Kohei Uchimura and were elevated above Britain, after lengthy deliberation by the officials, with Ukraine missing out on a bronze medal in the process
But that could not dampen the mood of Max and the rest of the GB squad as the nation celebrated the first men’s Olympic gymnastic team medal for a century.
“I really can’t believe it,” said a jubilant Max after his heroic display. “It is unbelievable for us to go from making history by just getting to the final, to actually winning a medal.
“It hasn’t really sunk in yet and I don’t think it will do for a long time. When I stepped up onto the podium, it was just an unbelievable feeling.
“I came into the Olympics just hoping to reach a final, so to come away with a medal is absolutely amazing.”
While the rest of the nation watched on with bated breath as the prospect of a shock British medal became a possiblity, Max said he was determined to keep his cool, despite the growing pressure.
He returned a score of 15.233 on the pommel horse – his specialist apparatus – and added 15.666 on the vault.
GB were in third place at the half way stage, and next up for Max was the parallel bars, on which he scored 14.800.
A slight mistake from Oldham meant GB slipped back into fourth place with one rotation to go – and Max knew he needed to deliver on the floor.
“I wasn’t thinking too much about how the other teams were doing, I was just trying to do the best I could,” he said. “To be honest, I tried to block the thought of a medal chance out – I was just focusing on my routines”
Characteristically, Max put in a flawless routine on the floor, along with Purvis and Thomas, to hand GB a medal to the delight of the nation.
Despite managing to keep his emotions under wraps during the competition, Max said that he and the rest of the GB athletes were spurred on by the vociferous partisan support of the North Greenwich Arena.
He said: “I can definitely say that the home support helped. They were behind us through all the rounds and the support we’ve had in general has been absolutely amazing.”
Max was quick to acknowledge the support from the people of Hemel – as well as the rest of Dacorum – during the build-up to the Games. He added: “It feels great to know that my home town is behind me.”
Not one to dwell on what might have been, Max insists he is not bitter about the decision to award Japan the silver medal ahead of GB.
“To be honest, none of us are really that bothered,” he said. “We went in to the Games with no expectations of getting a medal so to get any one is great.”
The youngster has become a celebrity overnight – with followers on his Twitter account rising from 2,000 on Monday to more than 20,000 now – but his work at the Games is not done yet.
Max returns to the North Greenwich Arena on Sunday afternoon for the indivdual pommel horse final, but was cool on his chances of picking up another medal.
“I hope to do well but getting the team medal has taken any pressure off me,” he said. One thing is for sure, though – regardless of his result on Sunday, Max’s heroics at London 2012 will live long in the memory and give Dacorum a sporting achievement to be rightly proud of for years to come.