Lithuanian swimming star quits sport because of mental health issues

Rūta Meilutytė's path perfectly embodies the struggles faced by young female athletes all over the world.

Daiva Repeckaite
Daiva Repeckaite NewsMavens, Lithuania
Lithuanian swimming star quits sport because of mental health issues - NewsMavens

Why this story matters:

Rūta Meilutytė became a sports star at the age of 15, and it looked like the only way she could go was up. She won the gold medal for the 100-meter breaststroke at the London Olympics in 2012, and has since a become medalist and record holder in various European and global competitions. 

Thanks to Meilutytė, swimming suddenly became big in Lithuania, where women's sport is rarely broadcast on prime time TV and men's basketball consumes the bulk of public and private funding. The young athlete, now 22, went on to establish a foundation to promote swimming lessons and help children overcome their fear of water.

After rumors of a burnout, she failed to respond to requests for anti-doping tests. The national swimming team did not include her in the line-up for the world championship, and the most recent news was that she decided to quit her career in sports and focus on her studies. In a recent interview, she said she was afraid of life beyond swimming, and only moving to the US helped her rediscover life outside of the spotlight.

Will society take the opportunity to discuss the mental toll sudden attention and stardom takes on young athletes, or will Meilutytė become another young role model who was brought to fame in young age and then forgotten?

Details from the story:

  • Rūta Meilutytė currently holds one world record and two European records.
  • At the age of 17, she made history as the first person to achieve all major youth and adult sports titles.
  • She is the first Lithuanian Olympic gold medalist in swimming.
  • However, she suffered an injury before the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics and didn't win key tournaments, but recovered towards the end of the year. The pressure to continue winning has negatively impacted her mental state, and she was filmed sobbing after finishing the race. She did not win any medals in 2017 either. In 2018, she openly admitted she was recovering from depression.
  • She announced her decision to leave her athletic career on May 21.
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