Max Whitlock returned to his imperious best in Doha with a pommel performance that suggested an unprecedented third consecutive world title is within his grasp.
Whitlock comfortably out-stripped his major rivals in qualifying, including Ireland’s Rhys McClenaghan, who fell twice, to score a superb 14.966 and indicate he is ready to put a year of relative disappointment behind him.
It was quite a statement from Whitlock, who not only failed to take gold at the Commonwealth Games and European Championships, but had only minutes earlier fallen short again with his floor routine.
Whitlock was also competing for the first time in major senior competition without his long-time coach and close friend Scott Hann, who had stayed at home for personal reasons.
Whitlock told Press Association Sport: “I felt a lot of relief after my pommel routine. This year hasn’t gone fully to plan but it’s been about looking at the bigger picture.
“Also, it was the first time since 2013 that Scott hasn’t been on the floor with me. It felt weird, strange and gutting, but hopefully from now on we will be able to work together again.”
Victory for Whitlock next Friday, following his previous successes in Glasgow in 2015 and Montreal last year, would make him the first British gymnast to win three back-to-back world crowns.
The 25-year-old’s timely return to form will not have escaped the notice of his rivals, with so many having struggled on the apparatus this week, including McClenaghan, whose score of 11.066 saw his challenge abruptly end.
The Irishman, who usurped Whitlock at both the Commonwealth Games and Europeans, blamed a shoulder injury for poor preparation and said he will focus on securing qualification for Tokyo 2020.
“I’ve been through a lot of tough things this year so I’m happy to come out
Solid performances from Whitlock’s team-mates Dominick Cunningham, James Hall, Joe Fraser and Brinn Bevan saw Great Britain comfortably qualify for Monday’s men’s team final.
In addition, Cunningham booked his place in the individual vault final, and Hall and Bevan, a late replacement for the injured Nile Wilson, will compete in the men’s all-around final.
Like Whitlock, Cunningham rebounded after failing to advance with his floor routine, despite having been crowned European champion on the apparatus last month.
Cunningham said: “This is my first World Championships so to get to the vault final and get a good score on the floor is a big thing for me. I knew I needed to go out there and land those two vaults.”
American superstar Simone Biles is due to make her return to international competition after an 18-month break on Saturday when the women’s qualification programme gets underway.
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