Palsyte has the heights for the big time

Palsyte has the heights for the big time
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Lithuania's Airine Palsyte had one of the strongest performances of the Euro Indoor Champs with a 2.01m high jump to win gold.

Athletics' gain, which could be there for all to see on Sunday as Airine Palsyte won gold in spectacular style at the European Indoor Championships in Belgrade, is basketball’s loss. Along with music...and the ballet.

In one brief chat with the newly-crowned high jump gold medallist from Lithuania, it is easy to realise her life could have taken a series of different paths.

“My father was a professional basketball player, my mum also played basketball but in college,” said Palsyte, 24. “I started the high jump was when I was 11. I also played basketball and I was a ballet dancer too.

“I played the piano. I did almost everything that a little girl can do.

“But when I broke the 13-year-old high jump record, 1.75m, I thought ‘Maybe I will stay in track and field’.

“I was preparing as a heptathlon but I never did the heptathlon. I was just doing high jump, it was really good for me and I am here now I am too tall for the ballet I guess!”

On Sunday, her journey and decision to stay with athletics saw her standing on the podium in the Kombank Arena, with the Lithuanian anthem playing, having not only won the first major gold medal of her career while breaking the national record but also having beaten the Olympic champion, Spain’s Ruth Beitia.

Yet for Palsyte, it was about how far she could have jumped and not who she defeated. It worked. Earlier in the season she had cleared 2.00m and now she has gone that bit further, winning with 2.01m ahead of and Beitia, in silver, and Ukraine’s Yuliya Levchenko, in bronze, the pair separated on countback at 1.94m.

A seven centimetre divide is quite a victory margin and now Palsyte will aim to use this triumph to build towards a summer of success at the IAAF World Championships in London.

She said: “It is not about (who I) beat, it is about achieving my own goals.

“The two metres and the 2.01m really gives me confidence and I hope to be top in London. I love the London Stadium.

“The Olympic Games (in 2012) was my first one. I was 11th, I was 19, and I got into the final. I am looking forward to going back.”

It is all about gradual progress.

Palsyte was the world junior silver medallist in 2010 and the European Under-23 silver medallist in 2013 before last summer again finishing second at the European Athletics Championships in Amsterdam, this time joint with Bulgaria’s Mirela Demireva (on 1.96m) as Beitia won the title (1.98m).

“In the last five years since London, what I have learned most about myself is confidence and to believe in myself,” said Palsyte. “If you just go there to the competitions and watch how other athletes are participating, then you will lose your focus and lose your confidence.

“You need to be sharp and focussed and then the results will come.”