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Meilutyte urges new generation to enjoy the ‘brilliant, vital, valuable’ YOG

2017-10-10 12:20:03

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Lithuania’s young swimming sensation reflects on her extraordinary life and how she competed at the Nanjing 2014 YOG as a fully-fledged Olympic champion

“I’d say to anyone going to Buenos Aires (2018) to really enjoy that time and make the most of it. See as much as you can, support others, meet people from new countries. You’re representing your country, so it’s important.”

For most hopefuls who get to participate in the Youth Olympic Games (YOG), the event is perfect preparation for hopefully giving the ‘big’ Games a go, further down the line. Ruta Meilutyte, however, did it in reverse order. The Lithuanian swimmer appeared at the Nanjing 2014 YOG having already bagged a London 2012 gold in the women’s 100m breaststroke, aged just 15.

“I guess I was the other way round from most, but I’d always planned on going to Nanjing,” she said. “I’d wanted to go to the YOG years earlier, and it wasn’t really on my radar that I’d win gold in London. I hadn’t planned for succeeding so young. But having won a gold already didn’t reduce what I felt about the Youth Games. It still meant a huge amount.”

Meilutyte admits that life has been odd, and sometimes difficult, since her golden 2012 moment. “It was just such a shock, something I could never have dreamed of,” she said. “I definitely appreciated it, and it meant so much to me, my country and my family. But it took some time to sink in what had happened, and what a big achievement it was.

“The mental adjustment has been tough. I’ve had ups and downs since, and it’s been more difficult than easy. Coming from a small country, the attention is huge, and it’s a weight on my shoulders. Everyone expects you to do it again, which is hard. But I’ve learned how to deal with it. You can’t be at the top forever.”

Nanjing came during an upward trajectory. Meilutyte won gold in the 50m breaststroke, and can’t speak highly enough about the Games. “Nanjing meant a huge amount to me,” she said. “I was still nervous about my racing and very happy to perform. It was also great to be there to help inspire young people.

“It’s brilliant that the Youth Olympics allow young people to get into that Olympic spirit. It’s vital experience, so valuable.

“I’d say to anyone going to Buenos Aires (2018) to really enjoy that time and make the most of it. See as much as you can, support others, meet people from new countries. You’re representing your country, so it’s important.”

Meilutyte, still just 20, broke her arm a year prior to Rio 2016 and eventually finished 7th in the 100m breaststroke at her second senior Olympics. But she feels like she’s now coming back into some real form.

“I’m enjoying my swimming again, which you need to do in order to perform,” she said. “We put in the stupid hours of training – 5am starts – and there are no shortcuts. So you need to enjoy yourself to swim fast. I’m feeling positive and optimistic for Tokyo 2020. I think every year I’m getting better again.”

Meanwhile, she’ll be keeping an eye on Buenos Aires: “I remember Chad le Clos coming to the (Olympic) Village as an Ambassador, and there being such a huge crowd wanting to hear his Olympic story. I’d love to do something like that myself at a YOG one day.”

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