Commentary by Nathan Jendrick
A little news bit came out recently pertaining to Ruta Meilutyte’s decision to swim at the Junior World Championships. Meilutyte, of course, is the same swimmer who was absolutely stunning recently in Barcelona, smashing world records and leaving pretty much everyone in absolute awe of her talents.
She broke the world record in the 50 breaststroke as well as the 100 breaststroke, won gold and silver medals and left Spain having completed the dynamic duo of being both an Olympic and World Champion. In turn, because of her accomplishments, some people are less than pleased that she has decided to enter the fray at a meet with “junior” in the title, under the guise that it’s “unfair.” I think people forget she’s all of 16 years old. She is a junior. And as such, if she wants to enter a meet with age restrictions, so long as she meets them, I say let her swim in peace.
At Meilutyte’s age the more she races, the better she is going to get. Don’t we all want to see what she is truly capable of?
This meet, like any other, gives her a chance to hone her skills even further. Yes, I know that if she enters the breaststroke events she is likely to obliterate the competition. And maybe she will do just that, and maybe she won’t. But there’s nothing unfair about a swimmer being better than others.
We have adult Olympians entering Sectional meets where, in many instances, they’re winning events by several seconds, several times a day. I don’t see people complaining about that, even though such meets are largely the grounds of age-group athletes. What’s the difference then, particularly when Meilutyte legitimately qualifies for the Junior meet due to her age?
Who, also, is to say that she may not inspire other swimmers, both mentally and physically? It was but one year ago that Ruta herself came out of the shadows with absolutely massive time drops in London to capture a gold medal that no one saw coming. In fact, it seemed so unlikely for her to beat Rebecca Soni for the gold that if you asked 46 people to each pick one of the 46 women that entered the 100-meters in London, and told them they all had to pick someone different, that Ruta would likely have somehow managed to still be left out. (Ok, maybe an exaggeration, but you get my point.)
John Rudd, her own coach, told the BBC in an early July ’12 interview, when asked how she could do at the Olympics, that he felt she could go a best time and be “very close to the finals.” Well, she sure did that, didn’t she? And I have no doubt much of her breaking out was because she was in the pool with the best swimmers in the world. She was inspired. She stepped up her game and she came through. Maybe a swimmer next to her at this junior meet will do the same.
Then, on the mental front, we have athletes who just get motivated beyond belief when they share water with an Olympic champion. My wife, Megan, and I have run ACQUA Swim Clinics for almost 10 years, and on more than a few occasions we’ve seen age-group swimmers go faster than their best meet times by substantial margins when racing in the pool against one of our Olympic guests.
They’re in the presence of greatness and it helps them unlock their own. These pairings are a win-win, despite what it does to a medal count.
I understand there are certain athletes out there who just want to win their races and if better swimmers not showing up help them do that, they’re plenty happy. In the Olympics, I suspect very few competitors are truly heartbroken when a medal favorite gets disqualified. It moves them up. I get it. I can’t say I’d be any different if I were actually a good swimmer. But overall I truly believe that Ruta, or any great swimmer, mixing it up and competing with aspiring athletes is a good thing. It brings out the best in everyone.
And you never know what will happen. History has given us more than one occasion where some kid from another corner of the globe has broken out and suddenly done some pretty amazing things. So let’s not complain, let’s not criticize; let her swim, and let’s enjoy.