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Max Whitlock gives Britain first gold medals in gymnastics

Britain’s Max Whitlock celebrates his gold for the pommel horse. (Rebecca Blackwell / Associated Press)
Britain’s Max Whitlock celebrates his gold for the pommel horse. (Rebecca Blackwell / Associated Press)
By Kristie Rieken Associated Press

RIO DE JANEIRO – Britain had never won an Olympic gold medal in gymnastics before Sunday.

In a span of about an hour, Max Whitlock gave the British two.

He already had won a bronze medal in men’s all-around at the Rio Games, then took the top spot in the floor exercise and pommel horse Sunday. He wasn’t able to properly celebrate after the floor because his two events started just more than 90 minutes apart.

“I had to go back to the training gym, refocus and get warmed up to do my job on pommel horse. … It was tough,” he said.

Whitlock finished fourth in the preliminary round but turned in a stellar routine on the floor to win with a 15.633 score. He placed ahead of Brazilian crowd favorites Diego Hypolito and Arthur Mariano, who finished second and third.

But the Brits weren’t finished yet. Whitlock and Louis Smith repeated what they did at last year’s world championships by taking gold and silver, respectively, in the pommel horse. Whitlock finished at 15.966 and Smith at 15.833.

“I think Britain can safely say that we’re the best pommel horse workers in the world,” Smith said. “It’s just pride. It’s nice not to hear a Japanese or American anthem for once. It’s nice to hear the British anthem. So, yeah, it’s just incredible.”

Smith pushed the British team into contention when he won bronze on the pommel horse at the 2008 Olympics. Whitlock made his Olympic debut in London, where he won bronze on the pommel horse and the team took bronze. Smith continued to lead Britain in London, taking a silver medal on the pommel horse.

But he was unable to capture that elusive gold medal, leaving that honor to Whitlock. Minutes after he collected his second gold medal, Whitlock was asked about the significance of the victory not only for himself but for Britain.

“I don’t know when it will hit me,” he said. “I don’t know if it will to be honest. I just sort of go along and do my thing and go with the flow, but this feels pretty crazy. So I’m looking forward to sitting back and sort of taking a look.”

Smith watched Whitlock’s performance Sunday and marveled at what he saw.

“Incredible performance. Can’t fault him,” Smith said. “I’m quite good at eating humble pie and when I’m beat, I’m beat. It was a fantastic routine. I can’t knock the guy.”

Whitlock seemed a bit dazed after his performance as he walked past reporters. Instead of wearing his gold medal around his neck – as every other winner did Sunday – Whitlock clutched his tightly in his right hand while he spoke. He wasn’t sure why he didn’t put it around his neck.

“I don’t know, really. It is pretty heavy to be honest,” he said with a chuckle. “I’ll go back and keep it safe. I’m very proud today.”

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