Ruta Meilutyte Sets New Benchmark in Olympic Swimming
2012 London Summer Olympics
Though not quite setting a world record of becoming the youngest athlete in the world to clinch an Olympic gold medal -- that feat is still firmly with Marjorie Gestring of the US who won the 3m springboard diving event in 1936 aged 13 years, 268 days -- Lithuania's Ruta Meilutyte still achieved something special.
The 15-year-old, who became the youngest athlete at the London Games to win a medal, attained the feat when she brooked little challenge on way to the 100m breaststroke gold at the Aquatics Center Monday. In the process, she not just became the first woman swimming champion in four decades to win a title at 15, she also spoilt world champion, America's Rebecca Soni's, chance of reaping gold after her silver at Beijing four years back.
There was a silver lining for Britain too in Meilutyte's gold as the Lithuanian studies in England and swims at the Plymouth facility, made popular by British pinup diver Tom Daley. Starved of success, Britain could probably bask in Meilutyte's till someone from their country does them proud.
Meilutyte, Lithuania's first Olympic champion, held off a fast-approaching Soni to become the youngest winner of an Olympic swimming gold since Australia's Shane Gould attained the feat during his triple triumph at the 1972 Munich Olympics.
Her coach at the Plymouth swimming club, Jon Rudd, echoed the sentiments of the Londoners, telling the media that she should be regarded as "our adopted Brit". "She goes to a British school, swims for a British club and has a British coach, so she is a great British interest story," Rudd was quoted as saying in a leading British newspaper.
Meilutyte, whose exact age at the time of winning the gold was 15 years and 133 days, became emotional he she climbed on the podium. Speaking to the media, the teen said she was yet to come to terms with the win, adding that she put in all her strength into the race.
Once off the starting blocks, she powered ahead and led right through to win in 1:05.47 seconds, beating Soni by just eight-hundredths of a second. Japan's Satomi Suzuki finished third. He personal best before the Olympics was 1:07.20 and she shaved off 1.73sec on way to the title.
Speaking of her opponent's exploits, Soni said a bright future awaited Meilutyte, adding that she was amazed by the 15-year-old's swim. She added that it was great for a teenager to accomplish such a thing on international debut.
Triple Olympic gold-medalist and defending champion from Australia, Leisel Jones, finished a poor fifth.
It's not that Meilutyte simply came out of the blue nowhere to clinch the gold. She had recorded the fastest time in the semifinal on Sunday on way to erasing the European record of 1:05.21. Only three swimmers in history have recorded better timings that than Meilutyte -- world record holder Jessica Hardy (1:04.45), Soni (1:04.84) and Liesel Jones (1:05.09).
Lithuanian channels went gaga over Meilutyte's feat, thanking her for giving them something to cheer about in their crisis-hit country. Lithuanian president, Dalia Grybauskaite, was there at the Aquatics Center to extend his her heartiest congratulations to the swimmer extraordinaire on Monday.
But it's unlikely Meilutyte will shift base to Lithuania in the near future as her father has established a house in Plymouth. The family shifted to Britain in 2010 a few years after Meilutyte's mother died when the girl was barely four years old.
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