OLYMPIC champion Max Whitlock has said retaining gymnastics titles is ‘a million times harder’ than competing as a youngster ‘with nothing to lose’.

The 28-year-old, who trains at the South Essex Gymnastics Club in Basildon, defended his title in the men’s pommel horse at this summer’s Games in Tokyo, taking gold for the second time in the event.

But Whitlock has now described the pressure he felt beforehand, and the difference between starting out in his career and being an established gymnast.

“Actually, I feel fortunate to have gone through both stages,” said Whitlock.

“ So, as a youngster, really chasing with nothing to lose, just going all out and giving it my best shot, to now, trying to retain titles, I’ve realised it’s a million times harder.”

And Whitlock felt the pressure intensify after he won double gold at the 2016 Olympics in Rio.

“Because I brought back gold in Rio, at the previous Olympic Games, people expected me to do the same again this time but, actually, every year that goes by, it gets harder and harder,” said Whitlock.

“It’s a learning curve every single time and the set of pressures are there massively to not disappoint.

“You never want to disappoint or be seen as a failure or anything like that.

“My own pressure was ramped up and outside pressure was ramped up, so that all coming together and having to wait to compete, it was difficult.”

Despite that, Whitlock was still able to see off his closest rivals to secure the sixth Olympic medal of his career.

But he is now enjoying being back home with his family and currently has no idea when he will be return to training.

“I’m not saying ‘I’m having this amount of time off and I’m going back in’, I think I want to wait until I’m itching to get back in, I want to wait until I’m fully motivated,” said Whitlock.

“You have to be itching, you have to feel that kind of fire and you’re ready to get back in, and we’ll see how long it takes, but I’m excited.

“For me, now is about just chilling at home.

“I’m so happy to be back, spending time with my family and spending time with people that helped me get to this point, and it’s all the little stuff that I think, over the last year and a half, that we’ve actually missed out on.”