VILNIUS - On July 31, Lithuanian Zivile Balciunaite, 31, won the European marathon champion title in Barcelona during the European Athletics Championship. It is the greatest win of her career thus far. Her finishing time after running the 42.195 kilometers was 2:31:14 hours. Nailya Yulmanova of Russia won silver in 2:32:15, and Anna Incerti of Italy took the bronze medal in 2:32:48. In the late evening of Aug. 2, Balciunaite was met by a couple of dozen cheerful Lithuanians at the Vilnius airport.
Lithuanian sports officials did not expect any medals for her in Barcelona. Until the marathon in Barcelona, she was known world-wide as an unusually nice-looking runner, but was considered an underdog. Balciunaite said that being an underdog was good for her because she was less nervous. Nonetheless, she said that her coach gave her the task to get gold in Barcelona.
Balciunaite said that she is somewhat disappointed that only people having cable TV could watch her run. “It is a pity that village people, who have no cable TV, couldn’t watch. Such a sport is watched not only by beer lovers. People of other mentalities watch it. When I go, for example, to the town of Druskininkai, old ladies are cheering me there,” Balciunaite said.
She said that the high temperatures helped her to win. When she and her coach found out in the morning that the weather forecast of heat would come true, they understood that they would win gold. Balciunaite stated that she likes the heat and keeps plus 25 degrees Celsius in her flat during the wintertime. Before the marathon in Barcelona she was starving herself for several days (she later switched to a modest diet) and sleeping a lot for a couple of weeks, which helps her to get the strength before the marathon. When Balciunaite was 22 years old and lacked money, she, as an athlete with a promising career in the marathon, got the proposition for citizenship from two of the world’s richest countries, Luxembourg and the U.S. Luckily for Lithuania, she rejected both propositions.
Balciunaite says that she plans to run until she is some 40-50 years old. Age in the marathon is not as important as in other sports, according to her. Balciunaite also stated that due to her moral taboos, she will not pose for the magazine Playboy, as did Latvian Ineta Radevica, another Baltic woman who received a gold medal, in the long jump, in the European Athletics Championship in Barcelona.
On Sept. 4, in Vilnius, Balciunaite will take part in a 10 kilometer international running competition, which promotes the fight against women’s breast cancer. On Sept. 12, she will run in the Vilnius International Marathon.