Before the last Olympics, no one had heard about Meilutytė. Now she carries such titles as “Princess”, “Lithuanian golden fish”, and “Lithuania’s new hope”.
She has made swimming one of the top sports in Lithuania, a basketball-mad country of three million.
Rūta’s greatness, however, goes beyond numbers.
Let’s not forget that Plymouth in England and the whole Britain adore Rūta no less than Lithuania. This is where Rūta has been living and training for the last several years, attending the best swimming school in England and being coached by Jonathan Rudd.
There have been cases when Lithuanian athletes chose to represent another country or refused to join their national teams on health or insufficient insurance grounds. But not Rūta. She acts as a role model who hasn't forgotten where she came from and who she is. She affects us in a way that makes us want to be a prouder nation.
And Rūta’s celebrity status is a big win for the Lithuanian community in the UK as well.
As the Guardian put it after her London Olympic triumph, positive British media headlines, inspired by Rūta, casted a positive light on the UK's Lithuanian community, which in the past years has only really made the news when one of its number committed a terrible crime or when they have been exploited by ruthless gang masters.
Let’s wish her successful career to continue without any injuries or other surprises.