VILNIUS - Teen star swimmer Ruta Meilutyte is Lithuania’s golden hope at the world championships, which started on Sunday, a year after bringing the first ever Olympic gold medal in the sport to the Baltic State, reports AFP.
The 16-year-old is a top favorite in the 50m and 100m breaststroke in Barcelona, which is an unusual position for the blonde schoolgirl, who was little known outside swimming circles just a year ago.
“I hope she will break her personal records,” Meilutyte’s coach Jon Rudd told AFP in a telephone interview.
Meilutyte, who goes to school in England, was voted best Lithuanian athlete of 2012 in her home country after winning gold in an exciting Olympic Games 100 meter breaststroke final last July.
The Lithuanian sent warning signals to opponents in June when she became the first woman to go under 30 seconds in the 50m breaststroke in a textile suit, with a European record of 29.96 sec.
Last month, she also beat her own European record in the 100m breaststroke with one minute 05.20 sec.
“Meilutyte will be fishing for gold and records in Barcelona,” ran one headline in Lithuania’s top daily Lietuvos rytas, suggesting Meilutyte was ready to attack both of Jessica Hardy’s world records.
Back home, her triumph provoked heated debates about emigration - a major topic in the Baltic State whose population has shrunk to its lowest level in decades after many have left to richer Western European nations. After Barcelona, Meilutyte is aiming for the Olympics in Rio de Janeiro in 2016, but also the Games in 2020 and 2024, according to her coach.