The beginning of the glow of two Lithuanian sports pearls was marked by striking coincidences

R. Meilutyte was fifteen when she won the Olympic gold. At the age of fourteen, J. Jocytė became the youngest female Euroleague basketball player in history. The exceptional talent raised two young Lithuanian athletes far above their peers early on. What else connects the country’s most famous swimmer and the magical rising star of basketball?

J. Jocytė, who was born in the USA but grew up in Palanga, and R. Meilutytė, who comes from Kaunas, are separated by a dozen centimeters in height and a few years in age. 188 cm tall Juste is only 16, 173 cm tall Rūta is 25 years old. One plays basketball, the other constantly trains and competes in the pool.

In the year when R. Meilutytė won the Olympic gold at the 2012 London Games while swimming 100 meters breaststroke, J. Jocytė just started attending basketball training.

They had met only once – three years ago in Druskininkai, where the Olympic champion took a picture with the Lithuanian national team preparing for the European girls (under 16) basketball championship at the water park.

J. Jocytė’s star was just rising then, and R. Meilutytė had just announced the end of her swimming career – as it turned out later, it was a break.

However, R. Meilutytė, nicknamed the golden fish, and J. Jocytė, already known as the magical Juste, are connected not only by extraordinary athletic talent for their chosen sport, but also by somewhat similar career paths.

Won gold medals

In the late evening of August 14, in Heraklion, the capital of the island of Crete, J. Jocytė kissed the European Girls Champions Cup and the golden ball for the most useful player of the tournament.

The youngest basketball player of the Lithuanian national team secured the Lithuanian victory in the final against Spain with two accurate free throws – 78:75. In the decisive match, J. Jocytė scored 28 points, rebounded 9, intercepted 3 balls, made 7 passes and collected even 38 utility points.

She became the leading scorer of the championship, scoring 134 points in 7 games – an average of 19.1 points per game.

“My name is Magic Jocytė,” shouted the English-speaking commentator of the match in Lithuanian with an accent after another impressive attack by J. Jocytė in the final of the European Championship against the Spanish women. It was clear to everyone that Justukas, as she is called in the national team, or magical Justė, as the commentator tried to call her, is exactly the player who should also receive the title of the most useful player.

Just three days later, on August 17, the “National Anthem” rang out in Rome, the capital of Italy, for R. Meilutyte, when she became the European champion in 50m breaststroke (29.59 seconds). In the semifinals, the Lithuanian swam even faster (29.44 seconds) and improved the national record she achieved 9 years ago (29.48 seconds).

A few days before that, R.Meilutytė won the bronze medal of the European Championship swimming in the 100 m breaststroke (1 min. 6.5 secs).

In June in Budapest (Hungary), the swimmer won both the world gold in the 50 m breaststroke (29.7 seconds) and the bronze in twice the longer distance (1 minute 6.02 seconds).

R. Meilutytė returned to swimming after a break of two and a half years last December.

Lessons instead of rest

in 2019 in December, J. Jocytė warmly hugged the people she loved the most – her biggest fans, father Alvydas and mother Aurelija – and left for France. The rising star of Lithuanian women’s basketball, then 14-year-old Justė, received a personal invitation from four-time NBA champion Tony Parker to train at his academy in Lyon.

The best young athletes from all over France flocked to this academy, and a talented basketball player from Lithuania was the only foreigner there at the time.

She was shy to communicate because she didn’t know French, and the locals didn’t even try to break their tongues in English. She missed home, family and friends, so she practiced during the days, and instead of resting, she usually chose textbooks because she didn’t want to fall behind in school.

In the same December, J. Jocytė made her debut in the women’s Euroleague with the ASVEL team of Villerban. She was only 14 years and 29 days old when she entered the court during a match against Kursk “Dynamo”, and soon after she launched a three-pointer from the left wing, only this one was off target.

A little more than a year later, in January 2021, when the warm-up had already begun after the stagnation due to the pandemic, then the fifteen-year-old Lithuanian scored her first points in the Euroleague: just 3.4 seconds before the match. before the end of the game, he received the ball at the three-point line, beat it twice to the floor and, after a two-step, scored from under the basket with his left hand. ASVEL defeated Prague’s USK 85:74, and J. Jocytė immediately fell into the arms of his teammates.

Justė is still a teenager, but she is already training like a professional. At least two training sessions per day, many matches during the season. Her wardrobe consists almost exclusively of sportswear.

“What does basketball mean to me?” Others would say it’s a way of life. And I just enjoy what I do. Although I am still young, I know that this will be my job in the future.

That’s what I’m preparing for now. But I’m not really a professional yet. What a professional here, when I’m still a student. I go to the match and in my spare time I sit at the computer and solve the “mathematics”.

Sometimes, of course, it is difficult. It happens that I miss classes because my head is tired from everything. But it seems to me that the whole beauty is the fact that I am able to force myself to devote energy not only to basketball, but also to science”, said the future eleventh grader of the Kaunas Adult and Youth Training Center. Although she is mostly in France during the season, J. Jocytė studies remotely in Lithuania.

To England – after his father and brothers

R. Meilutytė trained in Kaunas until the age of 13. The future swimming star was mainly raised by her grandmother from an early age, because in 2001, when Rūtai was only four, her mother was killed when she was hit by a car in a pedestrian crossing.

The swimmer’s father Saulius Meilutis then worked in the USA, but in 2008 he moved to England. R. Meilutytė’s two older brothers, Mindaugas and Margiris, also settled with him. After another couple of years, S. Meilutis invited his daughter Rūta to England.

One of the father’s most important tasks then was to find a swimming club and an experienced specialist for his daughter, because R. Meilutytė had already achieved good results at the Kaunas swimming school. The route went to one of the strongest swimming schools in England in Plymouth with the coach Jonathan Rudd who worked there.

“I visited the Šilainiai swimming pool in Kaunas. It seemed to me at the time that it was the best swimming pool in the whole world. I liked him very much. Of course, the conditions were tragic. There is nothing to talk about hygiene there. Our hall was all dusty and we didn’t have many tools.

But it taught me so many things. That lack of the best conditions, the best hall, the best swimming pool, the most beautiful tiles hardened and taught me to try to squeeze something good out of what I had in front of me at that time,” Rūta said.

R. Meilutytė and J. Ruddas went through water and fire together. After the victory at the London Games, the swimmer first fell into the arms of the coach.

The Lithuanian not only trained in Plymouth for days, but also had to find time for studies.

“That’s the part of swimmers: it’s normal for us to get up at 5 o’clock in the morning.” It is not easy – you have to fight with yourself. Sometimes you wake up and you want to go to sleep. But I know: I will go to training, and that hard work will turn into a competition result in the future.

It’s very motivating. And after a while, it’s no longer difficult, especially if you stick to that routine, you don’t go to bed too late,” the swimmer explained about ten years ago.

It came back with a bang

But in 2016 R. Meilutytė left the Olympics in a different mood. Secretly, she still hoped that she would be able to repeat the miracle of the London Games, but the water in Rio de Janeiro was too viscous for Lithuania. She was only seventh in the 100m breaststroke final.

After the failure, tears welled up in the eyes of the sensitive swimmer, which eventually spilled out into an uncontrollable ocean of emotions. After the Rio de Janeiro Games, R. Meilutytė and coach J. Rudd parted ways.

R. Meilutytė soon stopped training altogether, traveled with her brothers to South America and Europe, and later spoke about the depression that had overtaken her.

The talented swimmer still tried to hang on, continued to train, participated in competitions, but in the end she was still overcome by the desire to see a different life. Apart from the pool and exhausting training: “Until now, I have devoted myself to swimming. I have been involved in sports since my early teens. I put my studies on hold due to a busy training regime and now I want to get back into it. I want to experience simple things, grow, better understand myself and the world around me.”

Recently, Rūta admitted that she was even relieved when she received a message that she was facing a two-year disqualification due to three missed doping tests.

The swimmer missed those tests of doping controllers by chance or carelessness, but then, in 2019, it seemed to her a sign from above, because she did not have to make a decision to end her career – everything worked out by itself.

For two and a half years, R. Meilutytė lived a life that she could not afford until then due to the difficult regime of an athlete.

She finished school, went to university and enjoyed small pleasures. She no longer had to get up at 5 a.m. in the morning to jump into the pool. Her brain finally relaxed as the constant tension and external pressure to be the fastest again during the competition subsided.

However, towards the end of 2021, R. Meilutytė stopped by the Lithuanian Swimming Federation to talk about the pension that is given to Olympic champions and heard the question: “You have been swimming a bit lately, maybe you want to try to participate in competitions again?” in the championship.

And this year’s world and European championships were the first international competitions for the Olympic champion after the break. And she again added to her dowry of trophies.

Before her career break, R. Meilutytė had won 20 gold, 10 silver and 1 bronze medals in all the most important international competitions.

At the age of seventeen, she became the first and only swimmer in history to win at least once all possible titles in both youth and adult championships. Rūta became the best athlete of the year in Lithuania four times (2012, 2013, 2014, 2018).

Watching basketball stars

The path of J. Jocytė’s great career is just beginning, but she is already surprising basketball professionals with her extraordinary abilities on the court. Originally an offensive player, now the Palangi woman feels best in the position of a light winger.

But the basketball player continues to see the court perfectly, and she likes to give a good pass, as she says, even more than to shoot herself. J. Jocytė plays well not only with her face, but also with her back to the basket, she controls both her strong left and right hand well.

Left-handed J. Jocytė – only on the basketball court. She does everything else with her right hand.

“But my uncle – my father’s brother Evaldas Jocys – a former basketball player of Plungė “Olimpos” team – was such a fake left-hander. On the field, he drove the ball with his left hand and threw it into the basket with his right hand.

Since I was a child, I wanted to do everything with my left hand, but my mother kept telling me to eat nicely, so I started using my right hand, – J. Jocytė laughed. “However, in order to be able to use my right hand better even while playing basketball, I have to work a lot.”

Since childhood, J. Jocytė’s days revolved around basketball. With her brother Roku, who is one and a half years older, she used to throw things in a basket near the house in Palanga during the day. When Justa was only eight years old and Roki was 10 years old, a cat came to the Jocii house. The brother and sister, who are already passionate about basketball, named him Kobe – in honor of the legendary Kobe Bryant.

The five-time NBA champion died in a helicopter accident in January 2020. A year later, Jociu Kobis also left for eternity. However, the family’s home in Palanga still has the dog Naikis, whose name the children gave in honor of the manufacturer of sportswear and footwear.

Juste watches a lot of basketball games, admires the best basketball players in the world, watches their movements and works hard to be able to repeat the outstanding elements.

“I follow a lot of basketball stars on social networks, I like watching basketball. I observe how the players think, behave, what their body language is like – it’s very important how you are not only on the field, but also outside it,” the sixteen-year-old is confident.

J. Jocytė is just starting the hunt for basketball trophies. Three years ago with girls under 16. she became the European vice-champion, this year with the 18-year-old national team, the continental champion.

But for the rising basketball star, titles are not the most important thing, but the fact that she is doing what she likes very much and – most importantly – she is not doing it alone: ​​”You know what I remembered most from this championship? Not the first place, although it is of course important, but the way to the top.

We spent a month and a half together with the team, we became friends and it was visible on the field – how we support each other, how well we feel around each other. I myself enjoyed every day, so the process itself is more beautiful for me than the first place.”

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