London: It has been established that Plymouth’s most valuable citizen is no longer diver Tom Daley, but Lithuania’s Ruta Meilutye. The former, who missed out on a medal in the synchronised diving competition on Monday, will grudgingly have to confirm to that.
At the impressionable age of 15, Meilutye has served evidence of her vast talent and the ability to withstand pressure at the toughest moments in her sport. Her swim against some of the best in the field in the 100-metre breaststroke on Monday night showed that the world hasn’t seen the end of this shy but highly-ambitious swimmer.
No sooner had she won one of her heats, and Meilutye was already being swamped with offers of embracing British citizenship (‘we will adopt you’ they said). It can be a daunting moment for anyone so young to be asked to make a decision so significant, but she has for the moment politely declined and proudly continues to ensure that Lithuania remains in the headlines.
Meilutye’s success has not just been put down to precocious talent, it is the result of a lot of sacrifice and hard work.
The London Games will be a personal journey for her, it will provide those moments when an athlete who competes and wins against all the odds embarks on a path to self-discovery. She will be tempted by sponsors and agents but needs to keep a level head and focus on getting better at what she does, simply because she has only shown us a glimpse of what she is capable of.
For the moment, just the fact that she wins seems to be too much for Meilutye, as she commented after destroying world champion Rebecca Soni and Australia’s Leisel Jones in the pool.
“I can’t believe it,” she gasped, tears streaming down her face. “It’s all too much for me.” Then she paused and spurted out a message to her loved ones in her native language between gasps of breath.
There is no doubt that the Lithuanian’s moment has arrived. She could go on to be one of the most recognised swimmers in the world. This time, however, must be used to get better and gain wisdom. Olympians can be incredible role models and Meilutye must be aware of what her achievements in the pool will do for young swimmers back home. She must exercise great responsibility with the expectations that will now be placed on her.
At just 15, with the world at her feet, Meilutye is becoming the darling of the London Games. There have been others before her. Some went on to be icons and others just faded away. This moment is the crucial test. There will be moments of drama and trauma and the frustrations and stress must be internalised.
Meilutye has no idea where success is going to take her, but soon enough she will learn her place. With age and time, being an Olympic champion becomes more than just medals and glory.