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President & People Hail Meilutyte

Aug 8, 2012  - Craig Lord

Ruta Meilutyte, the 15-year-old winner of the 100m breaststroke ahead of American favourite Rebecca Soni, was given a hero's welcome in Lithuania after arriving in her native country from her adopted country, Britain.

The Baltic state's President Dalia Grybauskaite, who hailed the "new very talented generation" in Lithuania, was there to greet the Plymouth College schoolgirl and Leander swimmer 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.

Her improvement from a 1:07 to a 1:05.21 European record in semis and then gold in the final was one of the most sensational results of the swimming events. 

"I can't believe so many people support me. It is unreal, it is my dream. I am very proud to be Lithuanian," Meilutyte said at the celebration attended by local music stars and broadcast live by national television.

Meilutyte will spend a month at home before returning to Plymouth in England and coach John Rudd. She has lived in Britain for the past two years, since her father landed a job in England. 

"I think citizenship should not depend on the place where you train. I left for England for training, but I am and will remain Lithuanian," said the schoolgirl and first Lithuanian to win Olympic gold in the pool, discounting those from the region raced for the Soviet Union before the collapse of the communist bloc.