Andrius Gudzius of Lithuania, the discus winner at the IAAF World Championships London 2017 (Getty Images) © Copyright
Feature London, UK

Surprise discus winner Gudzius gains golden glow

For a country of less than three million people, Lithuania seems to have produced more than its fair share of world-class discus throwers.

Admittedly, throwing icon and two-time Olympic champion Virgilius Alekna had been responsible for the Baltic state’s entire haul of men’s medals prior to the IAAF World Championships London 2017, having taken the world title in 2003 and 2005 and silver at two earlier championships, but turn the clock back to the Soviet era and the likes of former European and Olympic champion Romas Ubartas also spring to mind.

Consequently, notwithstanding the fact that no Lithuanian athlete has stood on the podium at the world championships for 12 years, it was not beyond the bounds of possibility that Andrius Gudzius was going to rise to the occasion in London.

Coming into the championships, the 2.00m giant stood third on the 2017 world list – and had six competitions over 67 metres this season – before he clinched the gold medal in London with his second-round personal best of 69.21m, an improvement of 60cm on his previous best set on home soil in Kaunas in June, to grab the title by the wafer-slim margin of two centimetres from the pre-event favourite, Sweden’s Daniel Stahl.

The symbolism was not lost on many people who follow the event, both in Lithuania and at large, who recognised it as a changing of the guard with the 2010 world junior champion stepping into Alekna’s sizeable shoes after the latter retired from international competition in 2014.

Alekna advice

"Of course, he [Alekna] has been a big role model for me," said Gudzius. "I never trained with Alekna but sometimes he gives me advice. It’s mostly about the mental approach as our throwing techniques are too different but, in any case, his advice is very helpful.

"I haven’t really thought about the historical significance, either the long drought without a Lithuanian getting a world championships medal or taking over from Alekna, but I’m fortunate enough to have a team behind me, coaches, physiotherapists and a supportive federation, who have all contributed to this success.

"I was thinking about a medal but I did not expect gold. However, every athlete dreams about the world title and I managed it tonight. I still cannot believe it and I think I need some time to understand what has just happened."

On his lap of honour he seemed stunned to have won and barely exhibited any of the delight shown by the other world champions so far in London (think of the post-event reactions from Mo Farah and Luvo Manyonga).

"Everybody in my country was also expecting a medal from me and I am happy to bring one home but I had to stay calm during the competition and I think that still affected me afterwards," he said. "However, I can assure you, I am very excited inside and enjoying the experience."

Homing in on gold

"I have to thank [silver and bronze medallists] Daniel Stahl and Mason Finley for pushing me and it was a perfect competition thanks to them. Daniel has been the best overall this season but at every competition we start from zero.

"I was surprised by Finlay. He firstly threw over 64 metres in qualification, and then he threw a personal best by over a metre in the final. I personally thought that the other medal would be won by Piotr Malachowski or Fredrik Dacres.

"They will all have their chance of revenge at the Diamond League final in Brussels, and it certainly will not be any easier to compete against them just because I’m the the world champion.

"All the same guys will be gathered together again," added Gudzius, well aware that he finished down in fourth, third and fifth at the IAAF Diamond League meetings in Oslo, Stockholm and London this summer, competitions won respectively by Stahl, Dacres and then Stahl again.

Despite Gudzius trumping his opponents in London and the vanquished no doubt wishing to get back in the circle at the earliest possible opportunity, there is evident camaraderie between the big men – and big they are with Gudzius and Stahl topping out at 2.00m and Finlay no less than 2.04m, while all of them tip the scales in excess of 130kg – demonstrated ably by Stahl’s warm embrace of Gudzius prior to the last throw of the competition with gold certain to go to Lithuania.

"We are rivals in a competition but certainly friends out of the sector," said Gudzius. "We compete against each other frequently and so know each other well. We have different coaches, different throwing techniques, different skills, so as throwers we are different but we have many things in common."

However, the one thing Gudzius has that is unique to him, and no one will be ever able to share, is the 2017 world title.

Phil Minshull for the IAAF