FREED from the crippling weight of expectation that briefly convinced him to call time on his gymnastics career in the wake of his second consecutive Olympic title in Tokyo, Max Whitlock is finally relishing the prospect of returning to the competitive arena.

Nineteen months on from his flawless pommel performance in the Japanese capital, Whitlock will participate as a guest at the Scottish Championships in Perth this weekend, at the start of a process that he intends to lead to a bid for a third-straight gold medal in Paris next year.

Whitlock, who trains in Basildon, has spoken candidly about the mental health struggles he faced in the build-up to Tokyo.

But he now believes that period provided a timely alarm call that has enabled him to re-evaluate his career and plot its continuation to Paris and possibly beyond with a renewed sense of confidence.

“If I hadn’t gone through that feeling of being lost and struggling, of being a waste of space and come out of the other side, there is no way I’d have been able to continue at this level – I’d have just crumbled and collapsed,” Whitlock told the PA news agency.

“I now see what I went through as a positive because it gave me a huge reset.

"I came home from Tokyo and said that I was done with gymnastics and in an instant, all that pressure and that fear of failure lifted, because it was suddenly irrelevant.

“What’s interesting is that when I decided I was coming back, that sort of stuff didn’t come back with it.

"My fear of failure has completely gone. I’m almost looking at it from a different angle, which I think is quite powerful. I’m back simply because I feel like giving it another shot.”

Whitlock will compete on three apparatus in Perth and will also take part in the English Championships in Telford next month, as part of a process of acquiring the scores that are necessary in order for him to be considered for selection for the European Championships in Turkey in April.

“I’ve given myself a new challenge,” added Whitlock.

“My pommel routine’s got three new skills in it and I’m going all-out. I’m not daunted by that prospect any more.

“I just need to build back the experience of being a competing athlete, regain my momentum and hopefully ride it all the way to Paris.”

Of greater importance for Whitlock is putting a long-term plan in place to ensure that when he does finally hang up his gym equipment for good, he will not fall back into the kind of post-retirement void that has afflicted so many elite sports people.

Central to that self-made process for Whitlock, who insists he retains no regrets about his previous approach, nor has had any need or desire to engage a sports psychologist, is ensuring he finally leaves the sport with a healthy relationship and no regrets.

“It would be silly to say winning titles isn’t one of my main motivations for coming back, but I’m just being more realistic and honest with myself, which helps me going into competitions knowing it’s part of the journey, rather than the outcome,” said Whitlock.

“For the couple of years before Tokyo, gymnastics started to feel more like a job than something I had passion and love for and my main emotion after winning the gold medal was relief that I’d done it and it was over, I could forget about it and move forward.

“I had complete freedom to enjoy what I’d achieved, but it was the after-effects that I was so struck by because I really didn’t think I would fall into the same trap that so many others had – and I did.

“Of course I worry that I will fall back into the same trap after Paris or when ever I decide to retire.

"That’s why I’m more open to new stuff and exploring other things, some within gymnastics, that I have a passion for. I need to listen to myself more closely and find a better balance.”