It was a night to remember after a year to remember for Lithuanian discus throwing. On the stage was one of the all-time greats Virgilijus Alekna and in the audience was one of the stars of the summer in Andrius Gudzius.
How fitting this year’s Golden Tracks award ceremony was being staged in the capital of Vilnius on Saturday after an outdoor season where Gudzius built on the legacy created by Alekna to become world champion.
When he threw a personal best of 69.21m in London in August, Gudzius became only the second Lithuanian man in history to win a world title.
That he did so in the discus was proof of what heroes can do for the next generation.
Gudzius, 26, looked on as Alekna became the inaugural recipient of the Golden Tracks Lifetime Achievement award. Alekna won back-to-back Olympic gold medals in Sydney 2000 and Athens 2004 as well as world titles in Paris 2003 and Helsinki 2005 before completing the set of major titles with gold at the 2006 European Championships in Gothenburg.
Alekna and fellow Lithuanian Romas Ubartas, the 1986 European champion and 1992 Olympic champion, have been major driving forces in Gudzius’s career.
“It is a great honour to be on the same path as Virgilijus Alekna and Romas Ubartas,” said Gudzius when he was interviewed by host Andy Kay during the awards. “I am very pleased that I can continue [the tradition]. They were my heroes when I was growing up.”
Gudzius rose to the occasion brilliantly in London as he took the title by just two centimetres from Sweden’s Daniel Stahl, who led the world rankings with 71.29m. Stahl was the favourite going into the world final but Gudzius had other ideas.
And at the Golden Tracks awards, he revealed that he was confident he would make the podium. “I am sure that was a surprise for most of the world because they do not even know who that young guy is from Lithuania,” said Gudžius.
“We as a team – my coach and I – were hoping, silently expecting to reach a very high result and compete in that high rank to take a medal as a reward and I am happy that my dreams came true.”
Next stop, of course, will be the Berlin 2018 European Athletics Championships in Berlin - part of the inaugural multi-sport European Championships.
Alekna has the full set of medals from the European Championships, winning silver in Munich 2002 - and bronze in Budapest 1998 - before taking gold in 2006.
Alekna’s first major senior championships was the European Championships in Helsinki in 1994 and his career in big events came full circle more than two decades later at the European Championships in Zurich - at the age of 42.
As he received his award from Lord Coe, President of the IAAF on Saturday, Alekna said: “Twenty years and big sport! It was the best time of my life and thank you for this award.”