SOUTH Essex Gym Club’s Max Whitlock saw off the challenge of the Olympic pommel horse champion, Krisztián Berki, to win gold on the apparatus at the European Gymnastics Championships in Sofia yesterday.

Whitlock, who trains at the Basildon venue, scored 16.166 – a score which would have eclipsed Berki’s Olympic gold medal-winning mark by a tenth of a point.

Whitlock had earlier helped Great Britain finish second in the team competition and took fifth place in the floor final with 15.333.

The 21-year-old was the sixth to compete on the apparatus and set an unassailable target after surpassing Hungarian Berki’s score of 15.633.

Following his gold medal-winning performance, Whitlock said: “I’m really, really happy. I’ve worked so hard on my routines and am always trying to up my game to stay ahead of the competition.

“To produce under that level of pressure and expectancy and win ahead of a legend like Krisztian Berki feels fantastic.

“My routine is high on difficulty but I’m never satisfied. From here I’m going to be looking to push on even further.

“It feels fantastic to have won this medal and I’m determined to go on and win more in the future.”