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Third Meet Record In Row For Ruta

Dec 13, 2012  - Craig Lord

Istanbul, World Short-Course Championships, Day 2 finals: 

Women's 50m breaststroke

Olympic 100m breaststroke champion Ruta Meilutyte claimed her third championships record in three swims in the breaststroke dash with a 29.44sec victory ahead of a 29.67 silver for Jamaica's Alia Atkinson, the bronze going to Sarah Katsoulis (AUS), last home inside 30sec, on 29.94.

Meilutyte is based at Plymouth Leander and College in England with coach John Rudd. She arrived in Britain in 2009 after her father Saulius Meilutis landed a job that granted his family a better life away from family tragedy back home: at 4, Meilutyte lost her mother in a car accident.

At London 2012, she clocked 1:05.21 in the semi-final (before taking the title in 1:05.47), a 2sec improvement in the year since she claimed the Olympic Youth Crown. The pressure of the moment did not appear to affect Meilutyte. Said Rudd at the time: "It has no effect on Ruta. She didn’t know she had set a European record. She is just treating this like the Devon Championships. But she’s a major talent and hugely focused and professional for her age."

On her big step up in time for Olympic glory, Rudd said: "Ruta has grown up in the last year. The physical change between 14 and 15 has, like with lots of kids, been significant. She’s filled out a lot since she won the Youth Olympics. She has a natural gift, but she is psychologically as well as physically strong."

Since the Games, Meilutyte received a hero's welcome back home. The Baltic state's President Dalia Grybauskaite, who hailed the "new very talented generation" in Lithuania, greeted the schoolgirl in the central square by the town hall in Vilnius, the capital.

A crowd of thousands, some holding national flags of yellow, green and red, welcomed Meilutyte with cheers of "Thank you, Ruta" as she took to a specially prepared stage with her gold medal around her neck. "I can't believe so many people support me. It is unreal, it is my dream. I am very proud to be Lithuanian," Meilutyte told those gathered to honour her. 

Rudd, meanwhile, was honoured too: in a year in which he was the only British coach at a home Games to celebrate gold in the pool for one of his charges, he was voted Coach of the Year by his peers. The 42-year-old Yorkshire-born coach was then awarded the Cross of the Knight of the Order of Merits by President Dalia Grybauskaite of Lithuania, and presented with the Olympic Gold Star, the highest honour that Lithuania's Olympic Committee bestows.

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."