British coach Jon Rudd, has received two top honours in Lithuania for coaching 15-year-old star Ruta Meilutyte to the Olympic 100m breaststroke title in London.
Based at Plymouth Leander and Plymouth College, the 42-year-old Yorkshire-born coach was awarded the Cross of the Knight of the Order of Merits by President Dalia Grybauskaite of Lithuania. He was also presented with the Olympic Gold Star, the highest honour that Lithuania's Olympic Committee bestows.
Rudd told local media: "We go over to Lithuania each year to talk to the Olympics Committee about funding and our plans for the year ahead. So, when we went over this was rather unexpected. It felt really bizarre. I didn't think it was a big deal until they took me to the presidential palace. The award from the president is akin to an MBE. Not being a Lithuanian citizen, they must have had to think long and hard about giving an award to me. There's not many occasions in the past where Lithuanian athletes have been coached by coaches outside of their country. "So it takes it off the page a bit and underlines their respect for me and what we're doing here."
Meilutyte moved to Britain three years ago when her father took a job in the country. Her mother died in an accident when the swimmer was eight years old. Having arrived at London 2012 challenging the 1:07 mark, she clocked 1:05-plus three times at the Games, setting a European record in the semi-finals on her way to gold a fingernail ahead of Rebecca Soni (USA).
Rudd, currently on world cup tour in Europe with his charge, said that he was amazed by the adulation Meilutyte has received in Lithuania. "She's the most famous female in Lithuania at this moment in time. She has rock star status there," he said. "She has to go everywhere with her hood down."
In a letter to Rudd, President Grybauskaite said: "I would like to extend my sincere thanks for your contribution in training Ruta to represent Lithuania in the London 2012 Olympic Games. Your outstanding talent and persistent daily effort have brought us Olympic gold. Hard work, wise advice, psychological support and your ability to steer the athlete to the right path, which you as a true professional demonstrated, have yielded brilliant and joyful results to Lithuania."