Lithuanian gold medallist Ruta Meilutyte wins a place in British hearts


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A Lithuanian gold medallist who lives in Plymouth has become an honorary Brit after adapting to life in the UK.

Ruta Meilutyte captured the hearts of two nations at the Olympic Park last night when she let the tears flow upon receiving a shock gold medal for her victory over American world ­champion Rebecca Soni in the 100 metres breaststroke final.

Cheering from the stands inside the Aquatic Centre were the President of Lithuania, Dalia Grybauskaite, and her English swimming coach, Jon Rudd, while down in Devon Meilutyte’s fellow pupils and teachers at Plymouth College watched in delight as the drama unfolded on television.

Meilutyte and her father Saulius moved to the south-west three years ago, partly drawn there by the training offered by the acclaimed Plymouth Leander Swimming Club and the facilities on offer at the College where Great Britain diver Tom Daley also studies.

Sarah Dunn, deputy head, said: “Ruta is close friends with Tom. They are very similar in that they are very dedicated, very focused and completely and utterly in tune with what they need.

“Ruta is one of those rare golden students who listen to what is said to her and who does exactly what is right both in her school life and in her swimming training. We are absolutely ecstatic about the gold medal.

“The whole school community has gone wild about this. We knew she was in with a bit of a chance but we didn’t really expect quite this magnificent result.”

Rudd said: “Ruta’s father moved to Plymouth for a change of lifestyle. He got himself settled, got a job and a house, and then brought his daughter over a couple of months later. I think he knew we had a good swimming programme in Plymouth, so that was one of the main reasons for choosing that area.”

Meilutyte set a new European record in qualifying for the final and then claimed her gold in a time of 1min 5.55sec. Afterwards, she admitted: “On the podium my legs were shaking so much I thought I was going to fall down.”

Rudd confirmed: “Ruta is a bit shocked at the moment.” But he insisted her triumph was fully deserved. He went on: “She is a great talent but she is also an extremely vigilant and conscientious worker. When you get talent and work ethic together, you’ve got the ideal kid.

“It is like everything about her is pretty much as we’d want it — her work in the pool, her work in the gym, her attention to detail. She is very conscientious about her nutrition and how she rests.”

Although Meilutyte gave rein to her emotions in the wake of her triumph, Rudd had no doubts she could handle the pressure leading up to the final. Ahead of preparing Meilutyte for the 50m and 100m freestyle heats later this week, he said: “All we did was concentrate solely on her process. And she is amazing at this, blanking everything else, just concentrating on her race, her process, what she has to do.

“She doesn’t want me to talk about what anybody else’s strengths and weaknesses are. She tells me to be quiet about that. She says, ‘Tell me what I have to do, and what I have to do to be better.’

“That is how we’ve done it, from heat to semi to final. No different. Exactly the same preparation each round. It proved just the ticket.”