MAX Whitlock is delighted to have sparked an explosion of interest at the Basildon gymnastics club which turned him into an Olympic medal winner.
The 19-year-old’s high-profile success at London 2012 has led to the South Essex club creating 360 new places for prospective members.
And the pommel horse specialist says that’s something which he values every bit as much as his two Olympic bronze medals.
“To get back here and find out how much it has inspired people to take up gymnastics is just great,” he said.
“And it’s not just at our club but also clubs across the country.
“I know we have a massive waiting list here at Basildon now and to think that has something to do with me makes me feel really good.
“It’s great to come away from a big competition with some success, but to think you have helped your gym club like that is just as good.
“I know that if I hadn’t gone to that gym I would not be where I am now. I owe so much to them and especially my coach Scott (Hann).”
Whitlock has trained with the club for a decade, starting off at their former base off Cranes Park Road, and then moving with them to Basildon’s Sporting Village when it opened last year.
He travels an hour each way from his home in Hemel Hempstead to train for seven hours a day from Monday to Friday, and also on Saturday mornings, at the £38million centre’s Olympic standard facilities.
Whitlock was seven years-old when he took up gymnastics. He also displayed an aptitude for swimming at that age and recalls having to make a decision about which of the two sports he would continue with.
He said: “I can’t remember how good I was at swimming, but my mum and dad said I was quite good. I know I could do the butterfly stroke when I was six, which is quite unusual.
“I started swimming because my brother Ben was, and is still good at swimming. So that’s how I got into it.
“But I got picked for a gymnastics squad and it was a good opportunity for me.
“So then I had to decide if I wanted to do swimming or gymnastics, and I choose gymnastics. And I’m pretty glad I did now!”
When asked what advice he would give a seven-year-old now who was thinking about taking up the sport, he said: “I would just say stick at it, basically. It’s a really hard sport, particularly when you are young.
“And the harder you work at it when you are younger, the easier it becomes when you are older.”