quarta-feira, 31 de dezembro de 2014

Meilutyte: “I was like a jungle kid”

Wearing huge sunglasses, Ruta Meilutyte leans back in her comfortable chair and enjoys the Qatari sun.
On the closing day, December 7, 2014 of the FINA World Swimming Championships (25m) in Doha, the 17-year-old Lithuanian bags home one gold (50m breast) and one silver medal (100m breast). Even though she wanted to win gold in both races, she is satisfied with her performances – missing the world record in 50m breaststroke just by one-hundredth of a second.
Question: As reported in several articles, you almost died when you started to learn swimming being seven years old. Is this true?
Answer: No, no, I didn’t die (smiles). I just drowned a bit. It was just because I jumped in the deep side of the pool, in the very first practice. I thought I can swim, but I couldn’t. But the coach had this long stick and saved me.

Q. Fortunately, you continued swimming. And finally, your star began to shine very brightly when you won the gold medal in 100m breaststroke at the Olympics 2012 in London at 15 years old. Did you expect winning there?
A. No. I was completely surprised. It was a big shock. You could probably see it in my face when I finished – it was just like “Whaaaaat?”.

Q. Your mother died in a car accident when you were four. Since that tragedy, you were raised by your grandmother Aldona. Could she watch your “golden race” in London?
A. She was in the arena and supported me there. She hasn’t been on a plane before. She was very excited. I met her the night before the race. Definitely, that was another motivation for me to swim a good race.

Q. How did you handle with all the media attention after winning the gold medal?
A. At first, it was quite wired and unusual. Making the first interviews, I was a bite shy and scared. But the more interviews and stuff I did, I got used to it. The public attention became a part of the job.

Q. Although you are just 17 now, almost the whole world knows your face. How difficult is that for you?
A. My life is completely different to other 17-year-old girls. But I have accepted it. It’s part of what I am doing. It has been hard. But now I’ve started to enjoy the whole experience: swimming, travelling, competing, meeting a lot of people. I’m very grateful for this opportunity.

Q. Do you miss anything what other 17-year-old girls can do?
A. No. My teammates and me, we are still normal people. Obviously, training and swimming have priority. But it’s important just to be a normal person sometimes and not to be a swimmer – to switch off for a day or two. Most of all, when you are done after a competition, it’s important to keep your mind fresh. 

Ruta Meilutyte (LTU) - photo credit: Giorgio Scala/Deepbluemedia 

Q. How was your childhood in Lithuania before you became a well-known athlete?
A. I was a bit like a jungle kid. I grew up in an area with a lot of trees. I was climbing these trees like any other kid in my neighbourhood did. I wasn’t one of those girls that played with dolls and stuff like that. I was just outside most of the time. That was more fun.

Q. Being a jungle kid, did this help you becoming a strong athlete?
A. Maybe. I used to do a lot of sports like football and basketball. When I was young I tried everything. I did play basketball for five years. But I broke my leg and decided to quit. Then I went back to swimming.

Q. Basketball is the most popular sport in Lithuania...
A. Yes, but I didn’t enjoy playing basketball that much. I felt it was quite boring. I was even getting angry when the girls were missing the ball. I’m not a good team player, I guess. Probably, that’s why I like swimming so much because I can get all my energy out in the pool. And I know, my performances are down to what I do.

Q. Here in Doha, a huge number of fans cheered for you. Can you describe your excitement about that?
A. It’s pretty crazy what’s going on. The people do recognise me a lot. Pretty much in every place I compete Lithuanian people living in this country come and support me in the competitions. Here at the championships, the fans have actually flown to Doha from countries like Bahrain or Dubai. This is amazing!

Q. How present are you in your home country?
A. I’m not going back to Lithuania that often because my training is based in Plymouth. When we get a little bit time off, I do go back to visit my family. It’s maybe a few times a year.

Q. When will be your next trip to Lithuania?
A. At Christmas! Christmas at home is always great (smile).
Marcel Friederich, FINA/AIPS Young Reporter, from Germany


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