Gudzius turns back the clock as Lithuania celebrate discus gold

Andrius Gudzius at the IAAF World Championships London 2017
European Athletics

Andrius Gudzius at the IAAF World Championships London 2017

One moment, one glorious, instinctive second that showed the spirit of sport amid a modern-day battle of the gladiators.

As Sweden’s Daniel Stahl left the discus circle for the last time, his silver medal secured but no chance of gold, Andrius Gudzius, the new world champion from Lithuania, stood up to take his final throw.

Their eyes met, they came face-to-face, and Stahl put his arm on his rival’s shoulder to congratulate him and wish him luck. Never mind they are giants of their event, never mind they weigh a combined 280 kilogrammes between them, here they were in London at the end of a brilliant competition together as one, having given their all.

Andrius Gudzius and Daniel Stahl at the IAAF World Championships London 2017
Andrius Gudzius and Daniel Stahl at the IAAF World Championships London 2017

The whole field watched as Gudzius completed the final with a throw that was academic but one which he enjoyed like never before.

He was the world champion and savouring every turn and execution which saw the device land at 67.89m.

It was his second best throw of the night but to the final result, distance was irrelevant because in round two he had reached 69.21m, breaking his personal best by 60cm, rising to the challenge presented to him.

Lithuania had only ever had one world champion before and that was in the discus too, with the brilliant golds in Paris in 2003 and Helsinki in 2005 from the legendary Virgilijus Alekna.

It is some pressure of expectation to follow that, but this morning the country can celebrate again as the European U23 champion from 2013 now rules the world and with a little bit of help along the way from Alekna himself.

“I am not training with him but sometimes he gives some good advice,” commented Gudzius. “He gives me mental advice. It is very useful.

“I don’t know how to describe the situation about discus throwing in Lithuania. But from time to time, we have good coaches and from time to time we get good athletes. When those athletes go to the good coaches, we have a good presence.

"I was thinking about a medal but I did not expect gold. Everybody in my country was expecting a medal from me and I am happy to bring one home.”

At 26, Gudzius now has the first major senior title of his career but most importantly, he has proved that when it comes to the big stage, he can deliver like never before.

“That (69.21m) throw was the best of my career on the technical side,” said Gudzius. “There was no wind, and 69 metres in this condition just tells me I am doing things in the correct way.”

Andrius Gudzius at the IAAF World Championships London 2017
Andrius Gudzius at the IAAF World Championships London 2017

Alekna is some standard bearer, an athlete who was twice crowned Olympic champion – in 2000 and 2004 – and was the European champion in 2006.

Gudzius is the new hero and he was finding it slightly hard to take in when he faced the media late Saturday night.

"Every athlete must be dreaming about the world title and I managed it. I still cannot believe it and I think I need some time to understand what has just happened,” he added.

Stahl, the world number one this summer who had won his last six competitions prior to arriving in London including at the IAAF Diamond League in the same stadium last month, had led with 69.19m from the previous throw of that second round but Gudzius’s effort, just two centimetres more, in the end proved how thin the dividing line can be in sport.

There were still four rounds to go, an ocean of throws left, but Gudzius could not be beaten, his delight matched by that of Stahl in second on another wonderful evening for European athletics success.

Stahl, 24, was fifth at last year’s European Athletics Championships in Amsterdam and at the last world championships in Beijing two years ago but did not make the Olympic final in Rio, and had achieved his target even if it was not gold.

“I have had a good season,” said Stahl. “My goal this year was to throw a Swedish record (71.2m in June) and win a medal at the world championships and I have done those two. I am really proud and really happy.”

“I have great discus colleagues.” It was a fitting final touch, his words backing up the emotion of his gesture to Gudzius in those last seconds of the event.