Linas Jegelevicius for the BNN
Neither Rūta Meilutytė, the London 2012 Olympics swimming gold medallist, nor Giedrius Titenis, a European swimming championship’s bronze winner have even come close to their peak shape- and the previous results – in Rio Olympic Games.
Prior to that Ričardas Berankis, Lithuania’s tennis star holding 55th seed in ATP rankings, suffered the biggest tennis court upset of his life, unable to pull off a single set in the tennis tournament’s match in Rio against Australia’s John Millman.
Lithuanian swimming star’s upset
The shattering of Rio medal dreams for Lithuania has been especially painful in case of Rūta Meilutytė, who clocked in only the seventh result in the 100-meter women breaststroke final race.
At 1:07.32, the swimmer’s time was almost four seconds behind her world record that she claimed in 2013 and three seconds worse than that in London Olympics.
Choking back tears, she could hardly explain what went wrong in the swimming pool.
« I find it very hard to talk now…Few thoughts swirl in my mind now…I just wanted to touch the finish line as soon as I could…Perhaps I had let emotions to overwhelm my body…» Rūta Meilutytė snivelled before falling on her knees unable to utter a word.
Lilly King of the United States won the race on Monday, August 8, denying gold to Yulia Efimova, the steroid scandal-engulfed Russian swimmer, who was thumbed down with resounding boos from the Rio de Janeiro crowd. Katie Meili of the United States took the bronze.
King won the race in 1:04.93 minutes; Yefimova saw 1:05.50 and Meili had 1:05.69 minutes after the finish.
Coach in hot waters
After the star’s dismal performance many swimming experts and an army of Rūta Meilutytė fans started blasting her British coach Jon Rudd and insisted that she ought to ditch him for good after the Olympiad, but Meilutytė, who appeared in better moods a day after the competition, dismissed the proposition, claiming that all what she wanted now is to get some rest.
«Now I feel better, although I’ve slept little…Now I want to get some rest and not to think of anything. Tokyo Olympics is my goal, certainly…I hope I’ll draw necessary conclusions,» Meilutytė told lrytas.lt
Asked whether she made up her mind regarding the future of her coach, she evaded the question, saying that there was no arrangement between her and Jon Rudd as far as her future in Plymouth, where she studies and trains, is concerned.
«After the Games are over I will come back to Lithuania and then all depends on me. I don’t know yet when I will come back to Plymouth, but I will come back there as I have a flat there and my studies are not completed there yet…I have an excellent coach indeed, as well as the entire team. I couldn’t ask for a better team,» Meilutytė said.
Meanwhile, Jon Rudd said that «there are a lot of things» that need to be changed in Meilutytė’s training process.
«First when it comes to her physical training with her gym coach,» he noted before adding, « But first Rūta has to decide herself what she wants to do with swimming and her future.»
Montreal Olympics medalist very blunt
Many online zingers were harsh not only to the coach but the swimmer too, although a number of Lithuanian sports celebrities have come in Rūta’s support.
Especially bitter was Arvydas Juozaitis, the 1976 Montreal Olympic Games bronze medal winner in swimming and vice-president of Lithuania’s National Olympic Committee (LTOK), who confessed he was feeling a «cosmic disappointment» after Meilutytė’s 7th placing.
«Looking back to what has led to the result it is obvious to me that her coach was not up to the heights that Rūta had achieved…I don’t understand why she was racing the first 50 meters above her capacities? Off to a speedy start, she wears out her muscles and comes short in breath and strength when finishing. This is a mistake of the coach… Let’s admit he’s a mere college coach and Rūta is a golden grain to him. She has reached peak in swimming and she has changed physically a lot over the years…I wish she starts thinking now of a family, children and coming back to the pool as a coach,» Juozaitis told lrytas.lt
Many reasons count
Meilutytė’s first coach Giedrius Martinėnas believes that there is no «a single reason» to explain her unusually low Rio 100-meter breaststroke race result.
«There’s a bunch of reasons, I’d say. First, her psychological preparation which has not the best, obviously. She just looked too tense before the start. Second, the trauma she had before the Olympics and then comes improper technique of her swimming. It seems she has waded too much into physical training, not one focusing on developing speed and stamina,» Martinėnas pointed out.
He says the Rio performance is not an «end» to Rūta Meilutytė’s career and encouraged her to take some time to think about her future.
«To come back on track, she needs a year at least, or even two,» he suggested, agreeing that moving for training to the United States could work out good for the swimmer.
«The States are a leader in all sports and swimming, too,» he pointed.
Gintautas Bartkus, vice- president of Lithuania’s Swimming Association, called the question «very hard» as to what went wrong in the swimming pool for Rūta Meilutytė and Giedrius Titenis, another Lithuanian swimming star, who failed to make finals in 100-meter and 200-meter men breast races.
«Perhaps there have been some mistakes in the swimmers’ pre-Olympic preparations. Perhaps the expectations hinged on them were too big. It is especially evident with Rūta who succumbed to the mounting psychological pressure,» Bartkus told BNN.
Asked to specify what kind of mistakes he referred to, Bartkus did not single out any, except claiming that the federation needs to hear our Meilutytė’s coach Jon Rudd first.
«We did not see a concrete plan he had drawn up for the training. We just knew what competitions Rūta would participate. That is how much we knew,» the Swimming Federation official admitted.
In his words, there were no «signals» that something might have been wrong in the preparation process.
«That it has not worked as planned signals that there might have been certain omissions (in the process) and we will want to review the preparation process in detail,» he underlined.
To the observation by many swimming experts that Meilutytė’s speed dropped dramatically in the second half of the race, Bartkus responded that, physically, the Lithuanian star is «perhaps bulkier than needed.»
«The size of her muscle mass is perhaps even bigger for the sport. There was nowhere the freshness we would usually see from Rūta in the swimming pool,» Bartkus noted.
Only swimmer herself can decide
As Meilutytė has missed an entire school year at Plymouth College in order to get better ready for Rio Olympics, he believes she will have to complete the studies before making a decision.
«As we are talking about a human being, a very inspiring one with a great record in sports, we cannot decide for her. It is absolutely up to Rūta to decide what fits her best. I am not 100 per cent sure that changing the coach will automatically bring better results in the pool. In fact, our federation had already considered the idea a couple of years ago,» the official admitted.
The federation hoped Gierius Titenis would be among the 100-meter and 200-meter race finalists and that Rūta Meilutytė would bring a Rio Olympic reward to Lithuania.
Upset on tennis court
After the Lithuanian tennis star Ričardas Berankis’ dismal appearance in Rio de Janeiro, Lithuanian tennis experts were also speechless, wondering what happened to the player who failed to win a set in the match against Australian John Millman.
«The result did catch me off-guard. It’s hard to believe Ričardas could not win a single set. Only he can explain what happened on the court,» Mindaugas Šerepka, director of Šiauliai Tennis School in Šiauliai in northern Lithuania, told BNN.