While Max Whitlock was labouring to a second consecutive disappointment at the European Championships in Glasgow, Simone Biles swept all before her on a spectacular and poignant return at the US Nationals.
They could hardly have experienced a more contrasting year to date, but two of the sport’s modern greats are united in their determination to restore their dominance on a global level at the World Championships in Qatar.
Biles, clad in a teal leotard to show solidarity with other US sex assault victims, duly turned her comeback into a cakewalk in Boston. But Whitlock has been left to reflect that in some eyes he has fallen short of his own Olympian expectation levels.
Whitlock, who also missed out on pommel gold at the Commonwealth Games, said: “I find it funny that people think two medals at the Commonwealths is a failure, or if I come away from a major championships with one gold instead of two.
“I take it as a compliment because it is all set against the levels I have set for myself. It’s getting harder and harder, but that just motivates me even more, and it is a huge credit to the sport that the competition has become so tough.”
Whitlock, who will once again restrict himself to competing on floor and pommel in Doha, will for the first time enter a major championships without his coach and close friend Scott Hann, who is staying at home for family reasons.
“It’s important to never stop learning in my sport and what happened at the Commonwealths and Glagow has given me so much more focus,” added Whitlock.
“Obviously I would like to be perfect in every competition but that is never going to happen. I look back at my Rio gold medal routines and see improvements. That is the bigger picture that really drives me on.”
Most eyes will be on Biles, the 21-year-old quadruple Rio gold medallist, who says she will return to elite competition “fully refreshed” and ready to raise the bar again after enjoying a complete, 18-month break from the sport
“It was such a great idea for me to take a break because I was completely drained mentally and physically,” Biles told Press Association Sport. “I needed to take time off to do things I really wanted to do.
“I didn’t even watch the last World Championships (in Montreal), and the only gymnastics I did was a bit of trampolining with friends. But it never occurred to me that I might not come back and try to be even better.”