Going for more gold for Lithuania

  • 2004-12-01
  • by Laima Bendziunaite and Thomas Hviid
The whole of Lithuania cheered when winner of the Athens Olympic final in discus throwing, Hungary's Robert Fazekas, was expelled for trying to swap his drug test. Lithuania's Virgilijus Alekna was awarded the gold instead, thereby successfully defending the 2000 title he won in Sydney. TBT caught up with Alekna to talk about drugs, records and being a presidential bodyguard.

How did you experience the Olympic competition itself, including the disqualification of Robert Fazekas?

Well, it's hard to say how I experienced it. Of course, I was happy about the medal but at the same time surprised about this act of Robert Fazekas'. We all have to follow the same rules, so why should he be different just because he won the competition? His was an inexcusable offense and in my clear opinion, he was cheating.

Would you have been disappointed to settle for the silver medal?

Well, there's not much to be done about it, because sport is sport. One day you are the best, the next day someone else is better, that is the life of a sportsman. You just have to forget defeat as soon as possible and start preparing for the next competitions.

Do you think doping poses a major problem to sports today?

Yes, but I am happy that more attention has been given to this problem in recent years after the replacement of the president of the International Olympic Committee. [...] Now more and more cases, where illegal substances have been used, are being uncovered.

You have won the Olympic gold in discus twice and Romas Ubartas also won gold for Lithuania in the same discipline in 1992. What is the Lithuanian secret to discus throwing?

We have good training and a good tradition in it. Maybe it is a suitable sports discipline for our nation, just as basketball is. However, the training facilities are really in an awful state so actually three gold medals in the last four Olympics is quite a lot. No other sport in Lithuania has been that successful.

How is it to be a professional sportsman in Lithuania? Do you feel that you get the support you need to be at your best?

Of course, I receive enough support to travel to training camps abroad because there are not enough facilities to train here. But if we are speaking about the conditions for the next generation of athletes in the country, I really think there's too little attention given. There is good schooling, and all the government and the Sporting Committee need to do is take care of the training facilities. Then I am sure we will have champions in the future. At the moment, I am afraid that once I stop my career, nobody will be able to take over from me like I took over from Romas Ubartas. I am very interested indeed in taking care of the next generation, so I can pass on my experience.

In Lithuania you are also famous for sometimes working as a bodyguard for the president. Why did you take that job?

When I started working there in 1993 it was a very hard year for our country and for me as well. Since I wasn't getting any good results then, I didn't earn enough money to make a living from my sport, so I had to earn a living somehow. So I was lucky to get a job working as a personal bodyguard.

Is it possible for people to make a living only from sports or do they have to do something similar to what you did?

It depends. They definitely need to have some sort of support - most probably from parents, as no government institutions support the beginner. I really have no idea where else such support should come from today, because there aren't any sports schools any longer. All you used to have to do was to do your sport and strive for results, but this is not possible anymore.

When you are not working or training, what do you like doing? Do you also follow other sports in Lithuania like basketball or football?

I am interested in sports, of course, but I don't have much spare time to enjoy it. My training sessions and my trips abroad take up a lot of time, and the rest of my spare time is devoted to my family. I have a wife and two small kids at home who also need attention.

What major events are you currently in training for?

My main competition next year will be the world championships in Helsinki in the summer. I won the gold in last year's championships in Paris, so I hope to defend my title. In the near future, I will leave for Estonia for a training camp on Dec. 2 and early in the new year I will leave for South Africa for another training camp.

You have previously been close to beating the world record (74.08m) held by Jurgen Schultz of the former GDR. How do you see your chances of breaking it in the future?

Hard to tell, but it wouldn't be wise to prepare just for beating this record. The main goal is to win another championship, and if I should succeed in beating the world record, then OK. The record has been going for almost 20 years and is one of the oldest standing records, so it is not impossible to break. However, it doesn't only depend on me - also on the weather, good wind, etc.

Otherwise, I wouldn't worry too much about it because it is temporary anyway. If I break it, then somebody else might improve it sometime in the future, whereas if you become the world champion or win at the Olympic Games, nobody can take that title away from you.

You are 32-years-old now. Are you planning to defend your gold medal at the 2008 Olympics in Beijing?

I don't want to think that fa ahead. Of course, it's on my mind, but it all depends on how successful I will be over the next few years, and if I'll still have enough strength. After all, at the next Olympics I will be 36, which is a fairly old age for a discus thrower.