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On Aug. 16 Prime Minister Andrius Kubilius met with sportsmen that will participate in Sydney Olympics. Kubilius gave them good news: Olympic medal winners will get huge bonuses, up to $100,000 for the gold.
"I'll watch the broadcast from Sydney. I'll count medals. I don't worry about money. We are not going to save it," Kubilius said after meeting with the athletes.
Lithuanian bonuses for Olympic victories will be one of the highest in Europe, said Rimas Kurtinaitis, director of the Lithuanian Department of Physical Training and Sports. The Lithuanian government ruled on Aug. 16 that athletes who win a gold medal will receive 400,000 litas ($100,000) each, silver medal winners will get 200,000 litas and bronze medal winners,150,000 litas. The winners of fourth through eighth places will also get a piece of the pie.
The fourth place winner will get 80,000 litas while eighth place could get up to 20,000 litas.
By comparison, the Lithuanian media reports that Taiwan will give $320,000 for an Olympic gold medal, Latvia will give $200,000, China - $115,000, Russia - $100,000, Japan - $96,000, Estonia - almost $62,000, Germany - only $7,000.
"It remains just to grab those 400,000 litas," said Arunas Poviliunas, head of the Lithuanian Olympic Committee. The Lithuanian government will really need to pay a lot, say committee officials.
Olympic gold is expected for disc thrower Virgilijus Alekna who is the only one in the world to have thrown a disc over 70 meters in the last three years. This year he did it three times.
Lithuanian women cyclists are among the strongest in the world. Olympic Committee officials said they expect Lithuanian women cyclists to bring some Olympic medals from Sydney. There are reasons for such high hopes. Diana Ziliute won "Tour de France," the most prestigious women's cyclist competition, in 1999. Another Lithuanian, Edita Pucinskaite, won the same competition in 1998.
The "Tour de France" 2000 finished on Sunday, Aug. 20. The winner is Joana Somarriba from Spain. Pucinskaite came in second and two other Lithuanians also placed among the top 10 in this year's "Tour de France." Jolanta Polikeviciute was the sixth while her twin sister, Rasa Polikeviciute, was the eighth. Ziliute, last year's "Tour de France" winner, did not participate, saving her energies for the Sydney Olympics.
"I definitely expect medals from Alekna and the women cyclists," Kurtinaitis said.
Andrejus Zadneprovskis became the world pentathlon champion this year, and his chances are high in Sydney. Lithuania can also expect Olympic medals in heavy athletics, wrestling, women's table tennis, boxing, and canoeing, said Lithuanian sport officials.
Everybody is wondering how much money the government will need to pay if the 12-member basketball team wins Olympic medals again. The Lithuanian national basketball team took the bronze in the Barcelona Olympics in 1992 and the Atlanta Olympics in 1996.
Lithuania will send a total of 62 athletes to the Sydney 2000 Olympic Games. Disc thrower Romas Ubartas, gold medal winner in the Barcelona Olympics, will carry the Lithuanian tri-color in the opening ceremony in Sydney on Sept. 15.