Luke Whitehouse interview: From idolising Max Whitlock to competing alongside him for GB Gymnastics at European Championships
The three-time Olympic champion has towered over the sport for more than half a decade, the standard-bearer for British gymnastics.
As a teenager taking his first steps in major competition, Halifax’s Whitehouse was in awe.
In Turkey next month, 20-year-old Whitehouse will be 30-year-old Whitlock’s team-mate as Britain bid for glory at the European Championships.
For Whitlock it is the umpteenth major championship, the first since Tokyo 2020 after taking a prolonged break.
For Leeds Gymnastics Club member Whitehouse it is the first major senior championships of his blossoming career.
“It’s going to be a bit surreal,” says Whitehouse.
“Max is one of my idols, I’ve trained with Max at national training but I’ve not had full on camps with him yet.
“So competing next to him as part of the team will be something completely different.
"Being in a team with Max, Courtney Tullock and Jake Jarman is really exciting.”
But do not let this starry-eyed enthusiasm fool you, for Whitehouse is a serious competitor.
Just this weekend he was beating Jarman in the floor final to win the first British title of his career.
"Jake Jarman is a great name to be mentioned alongside, it was nice beating him on the floor on Sunday to become British champion,” says Whitehouse, who trains 30 hours a week around studying for a degree in sport and exercise therapy at Leeds Beckett University.
Less than 24 hours after winning a national gold medal he was in the car driving from his home in Halifax to continue his studies at Leeds Beckett.
“It was nice to get my first British title, it’s all go-go-go at the minute,” he laughs.
It certainly is. Just last month he made his third appearance at a World Cup event in Doha, winning a bronze in the floor final.
Twelve months earlier he had reached the same stage at the same venue but fell in the final.
“I was stood on the podium with a previous world champion as well so it made it really special,” says Whitehouse of his first senior international medal.
“It was a long time coming, a lot of hard work finally paying off.”
For Whitehouse the gymnastics journey began when he was five at an after-school club run by Salterhebble Junior and Infants School, coached by Andy Butcher.
A decade later when Butcher moved to Leeds Gymnastics Club, which produced Rio bronze-medal winner Nile Wilson, Whitehouse followed him.
"I got on the national squad in 2019, and that’s when it really clicked that I might be able to get somewhere with gymnastics,” says Whitehouse.
“I went to the Youth Olympics and Junior Worlds that year and it really opened my eyes.
"I gained a lot of experience from the whole environment, particularly the Youth Olympics with it being a multisport event, staying in the Olympic village.”
Covid interrupted his progress like it did so many athletes but it forced Whitehouse and his dad Ian to get creative.
He explains: "I’m lucky enough to have a pommel horse at home so I was able to do that and my dad put some rings up in the tree so I could still do some conditioning stuff. I couldn't do a full routine though as I would have snapped the branch!”
The run of form he is on now - World Cup medal, British title, European Championship selection - justifies the hard work.
"I was actually travelling to gym at the time and the head national coach Paul Hall rang me to congratulate me on selection for the Euros,” he says.
“I didn’t know what to say – it was 50/50 whether I would get on the team or not, so I was over the moon, I just didn’t know what to say at the time.”
The European Championships take place in Antalya, Turkey from April 11-16.
Whitehouse is part of a five-man GB team who will first try and qualify for the team final, out of which individuals can secure places in the separate apparatus finals if they qualify in the top eight.
The floor is Whitehouse’s favourite discipline but he is also English champion on the parallel bars and finished third on the vault in the British Championships in Liverpool at the weekend.
"Floor is the one I’m looking to make a final in and hopefully go on to win,” he says.
There’s also the chance of glory in the team event, alongside Whitlock.
"There’s a little bit more pressure added on,” admits Whitehouse. “But you’ve just got to remember the team is there right behind you, always backing you, always wanting you to do your best.”