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Champ Max out to inspire kids in Ulster

By Steven Beacom

World Champion Max Whitlock hopes his achievements in gymnastics can inspire youngsters involved in the sport across Northern Ireland.

Whitlock was in the province last weekend showing off his skills and talking about winning the World title in the pommel horse discipline earlier this year.

He'll be back in Belfast on Sunday, having been nominated as one of the 12 contenders for the prestigious BBC Sports Personality of the Year (SPOTY) prize.

Given the chemistry he had with the kids here on his two-day visit, he can expect some votes from locals.

Whitlock created history in October, becoming the first British man to win gold at the World Gymnastics Championship. He did it in thrilling fashion in the pommel horse final, edging out GB team-mate Louis Smith, who claimed silver.

It was quite a day for the 22-year-old from Hertfordshire because earlier on he was second in the Floor final and all this after being out of action earlier in the year with glandular fever.

"The first part of the year was a struggle. I was three weeks out of the gym and was really itching to get back," he said.

"To win at the World Championships was an amazing feeling. It was also great to be on the podium with Louis and for us to have a one-two in that event. It was a big statement from us. I think as a team we proved we are up there with the best in the world.

"For me success breeds success and hopefully we can inspire young gymnasts all over the United Kingdom, including Northern Ireland, to follow in our footsteps."

Asked if he thought Northern Ireland could produce a World Champion gymnast, the multiple gold medallist at the 2014 Commonwealth Games said: "Yes, why not? There are gymnastic clubs here with real talent.

"First and foremost it is about getting the kids involved in the sport and then hopefully some of them can go on to compete at a high level."

One who did that was Irish international Luke Carson from Lisburn. Unfortunately, injury forced him into retirement this year.

Whitlock said: "I've known Luke for a long time. It was sad that he had to retire through injury but he can look back with pride at all he achieved."

As for the SPOTY nomination, Whitlock was thrilled, calling it "a real honour".

And his thoughts on World Champion boxer Tyson Fury also being on the list despite his controversial comments?

"All the individuals have been picked for a reason, based on their achievements over 2015. I'm proud to be on the list and now it is over to the public to vote," he added.

Max Whitlock is nominated for BBC Sports Personality of the Year 2015. Live from Belfast on BBC One, 6.50pm, Sunday December 20.

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