Olympic win changed Plymouth Ruta's life overnight
In the summer Ruta Meilutyte went from relatively unknown city schoolgirl to worldwide star after claiming a gold at London 2012. Herald Sport’s Phil Stoneham talks to the teenager about how life has changed for her.
FIFTEEN-year-old Ruta Meilutyte would pass as a typical teenager if you didn't know she is one of the hottest swimming properties on the planet.
Before the London Olympic Games, Meilutyte was virtually unknown, just a flicker in the eye of Plymouth Leander head coach Jon Rudd.
The Lithuanian schoolgirl changed all that in two emotionally-charged races at the Games' Aquatics Centre in London.
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In the semi-finals of the 100m breaststroke, Meilutyte stormed to a European record on her way to the race of her young life.
Nobody had hardly heard of her. Rudd himself thought she was capable of reaching the final.
Other observers in the know thought she might just sneak the bronze.
But at the age of 15 years and six months, Meilutyte confounded everyone, swam her way into the sporting history books of her country and won the gold medal.
Meilutyte, who lives in Plymouth with her father Sonny, wept on the podium as her country's national anthem was played and was transformed instantly into one of the London Games' best-known faces.
In Lithuania, she is accorded rock-star status and was recently honoured – along with her coach – by the country's president.
Rudd, also director of swimming at Plymouth College where Meilutyte is a student, believes there's more to come from the swimmer who is not 16 for two more months.
And, judging from Meilutyte's mature response to the attention lavished on her since the summer, it is difficult to argue the point.
The Lithuanian is focussed on swimming, although her family, friends and education also figure highly in her priorities.
She will, if she continues to rack up the results between now and then, start as a hot medal favourite at the next Olympics in Rio, Brazil, in 2016.
First, she's concentrating on major competitions like the World Championships in Barcelona this summer.
And while another media maelstrom threatens to break over Spain if she does well again, Meilutyte is clearly relishing every chance to take some of the pressure off herself.
The sometimes abnormal level of media attention also occasionally bugs her.
She said: "I just relax and hang out with friends in my spare time. Having people like your friends and your family always gets my mind off things.
"I try as hard as I can to be a normal person, but there are the right times to switch off and there are times when you can't switch off.
"When I've got spare time, I don't do anything like activities, because all I want to do is chill out, but I might walk into town."
She added: "I get tired of all the media attention sometimes, but it's all part of it."
While Meilutyte might appear slightly diffident about her leisure-time activities, that diffidence disappears when the conversation turns back to swimming.
"We've got the (World) championship in the summer and we're gradually getting back into training after New Year and Christmas.
"We've got a few more competitions coming up as well, leading up to Barcelona."
It will come as no surprise, having watched Meilutyte weeping when she received her gold medal, that she would not switch her allegiance from Lithuania to Great Britain.
Meilutyte agreed with the suggestion that she is a patriot and said: "I had to leave Lithuania and come to Great Britain for my swimming and because of my education.
"Lithuania was where I grew up and is where my family and my friends are.
"I always wanted to represent my country, so although I enjoy being here, I would say no to Great Britain.
"If I wanted to do it, I could, but I don't want to do it."