Fotografas R. Ščerbauskas
© R. Ščerbauskas

A swimmer Rūta Meilutytė is convinced that sports culture in Lithuania and Kaunas, in particular, is taking the right direction. A conversation with a multiple European and World record swimmer about her hometown Kaunas, sports culture in Lithuania, and possibilities for innovation in the field.
Although you currently live and train abroad, you are originally from Kaunas. How do you see Kaunas today? Is this the city that feels good to return to?
Sports culture abroad differs in a way that it is bigger: there are various extra-curricular activities for children, groups that get involved in these activities are more age-diverse, and the sports hall and conditions receive a slightly bigger appreciation. Abroad, sports clubs are more accessible to every citizen.
It is always a pleasure to return to Kaunas and I am very happy to see that each year things get better here. I rarely return to Kaunas so I notice the new things and the things that remained the same.
You’ve been making Lithuania famous in different corners of the world for some time already. How is sports culture regarded abroad and in Lithuania?
The approach to the sports culture abroad differs a lot from Lithuania. I have noticed that a lot of young people are involved in sport there and not necessarily on a professional level. Even very young children actively practice sports-related activities, and the elders attend various sporting activities in parks and the like. It’s not only the professional sport that is popular there: people exercise in the mornings simply for their own sake.
The sport has become a part of people’s life abroad. Lithuania is not bad at this too, but children, elders, and families could get more involved. Also, conditions for sport are better abroad and certain kinds of sport – such as gymnastics – are less neglected than they are in Lithuania.
We, Lithuanians, are particularly patriotic about our country. All my life, I wanted to be able to represent my country at the international competitions, and I am extremely happy with the opportunity. I believe that all Lithuanians carry a similar patriot spirit. You can tell that by observing Lithuanian fans in competitions. Everyone recognizes Lithuanian fans as probably the most famous ones and it is quite pleasing.
How would you describe Kaunas sports culture?
All cultural fields are improving in Kaunas. As for the sports culture, I noticed that there are more and more bicycle paths in the city and sports-related initiatives that involve both professionals and sports enthusiasts.
Besides running, we could organize swimming marathons too. We have numerous water bodies and rivers around Kaunas. We have a lot of choices and I hope that someday one of them will welcome an event for children or professional swimmers. I’d like swimming or any other sports-related activity to become a part of every resident’s life.
Do swimming initiatives have to take place indoors?
Swimming sport doesn’t really have to be practiced only behind the closed doors, it can integrate into people’s daily lives. We could set up an open-air pool in the Nemunas island or at the Kaunas Reservoir so that every citizen could use it regardless of their age or swimming experience.
Professional swimmers would also have an immediate opportunity to practice. The pool could be a meeting place for people. Around this pool, a variety of sporting events would take place.
I’ve seen the open-air pools in parks and other public spaces in many European countries. Sweden and Italy have these pools. They are attraction sites and invite people not only for sport, but also simply to spend some time there. Children get interested in the sport if they grow up in such an environment and encounter sport on a daily basis. It is very impressive. When winter comes and it gets too cold to swim in an open-air pool, they mount an inflatable roof on top of it, so people could swim in the winter too.
You used to have a fear of swimming. How did you overcome it?
For a really long time, even until this summer, I had a fear of swimming in open water. Ignorance of what lies at the bottom of the lake, or how deep it is, used to cause an unpleasant sensation, fear. I could only swim about 10 meters away from the shore, that was the biggest distance. This summer, in the countryside, at the lake, I forced myself to jump into the water and swim without stopping. I didn’t let this fear to torture me any longer. Yes, I overcame it, although it tortured me for a long time. I was even afraid to ride on a boat.
You are an ambassador for „Kaunas 2022“. One of the most important objectives of the project is to involve the community in cultural events. Do you think that sport could contribute and become the link between the community and culture?
I believe that sport can contribute to the improvement of urban lifestyle. Sport includes various elements: the routine, healthy nutrition, rest, and other health-related matters. Sport can bring families, children, seniors together, and in addition, there is a number of team sports which would very quickly become family favorites. Various sports-related initiatives encourage people to exercise or simply promote a healthy lifestyle.


Video: Marius Paplauskas