Mykolas Alekna: the history-making son chasing an all-timer dad

    What do you inherit from a parent who has tasted athletic success? The genes, certainly, as well as the opportunity for early immersion in sport and the access to top-level knowhow. 

    But along with these gifts come curses, perhaps the most challenging of which are the expectations of being the child of an elite athlete. And when your father is a two-time Olympic and two-time World champion, both the gifts and curses are multiplied manyfold.

    Rising son: Mykolas wants to better the achievements of his father Virgilijus Alekna (left), a two-time World and two-time Olympic champion. | Photo credit: Getty Images

    Awe and certainty

    So when 21-year-old Mykolas Alekna broke a world record in the discus throw that had stood since 1986, the initial awe began to slowly share space with the feeling that this was hardly unexpected. After all, Mykolas’ father, Virgilijus, is one of discus’ all-time greats. He stood on the top step of an Olympic podium in Sydney (2000) and Athens (2004). Alekna senior also won gold at the World Championships in Paris (2003) and Helsinki (2005).  

    Mykolas Alekna’s mammoth throw of 74.35 metres at the Oklahoma Throws Series competition last weekend shattered the longest standing world record in men’s athletics. The previous mark of 74.08 metres was set by German athlete Jurgen Schult on June 6, 1986. Alekna’s throw was originally measured at 74.41m but later revised. The record is subject to ratification.

    Alekna’s record throw was his fifth attempt at the low-key event in the US Midwest dedicated only to throwing field events and formed a part of a series of six 70m-plus throws by the Lithuanian. Competing on a weekend that was blessed with perfect throwing conditions, Alekna launched the discus and pointed at it as it flew through the air, knowing he had uncorked a special one.

    In addition to breaking the world record, the throw bumped his father to third on the all-time list. Virgilijus Alekna recorded a best of 73.88m in 2000.

    “It’s really hard to grasp yet,” the new world record holder told Lithuanian public media outlet “It was a very good competition with all the conditions for a world record — strong winds, warm weather. I managed to make a technical throw. I’m still in a bit of shock, I’m very happy. Of course, the world record is not my goal — the Olympic gold is the goal for the season.”

    In an interview with Sports Illustrated, Alekna said he texted his father and the response was typical. “He just said good job. A man of few words, just like me.”

    Early mastery

    Currently a junior at the University of California, Alekna is already a two-time medallist at the World Championships. He captured silver at the 2022 Worlds in Oregon and a bronze last summer in Budapest. He is also a European champion, winning gold at Munich in 2022, and a World Under-20 champion, claiming the prestigious junior title in Nairobi in 2021.

    Discus athletes tend to peak later — for Alekna to be so successful at 21 is exceptional. His early mastery is all the more remarkable when you consider that he did not start until he was 16 when he decided to join his older brother, Martynas, also a discus thrower, at a local sports club.

    “Before that I used to do football, I used to do high jump,” Alekna told World Athletics. “I was a striker. I was pretty good when I was young. But I grew a lot, my feet got bigger. I was slower and that’s when I transitioned to discus. I was pretty late, I suppose. My parents only wanted me to do sports. It didn’t matter what sports, just to do something. I have always had an interest in discus throw, so I was able to tame this sport quickly.”

    Alekna has long arms, wide shoulders, and is very flexible, which is perfect for the discus. Although 6’5” tall, the lean Alekna is not one of the bigger men in the discipline. His father is 6’7” and weighed 130 kg in his prime. Olympic champion Daniel Stahl is 6’7” as well and weighs 155 kg, while World champion Kristjan Ceh stands at a towering 6’9”!

    “I wouldn’t say I’m strong,” he told Track and Field News. “I mean, especially professional discus throwers are way stronger than I am. I don’t focus on the weightroom that much because I think that discus technique is way more important than lifting. At least it works for me.”

    Another thing that works for Alekna is the unparalleled experience of his father. “I was able to learn from his mistakes and not my own. This is what led to the rapid jump of the results, because I didn’t have to make my own mistakes,” he said.

    A move that paid off

    Indeed, his decision to leave Lithuania and study in the USA was informed by his father’s experience. “My dad did a few training camps here and he really liked it,” said Alekna. “He said that the training conditions and facilities in the US are way better than in Lithuania, and I could get a good education here. He always wanted me to come here and I wanted to come here as well.”

    Both father and son explored a range of options before settling on the University of California — the training methodology was similar to the one Alekna followed in Lithuania. The move has paid off spectacularly, with the 21-year-old now eyeing a medal at the 2024 Paris Olympics.

    “I’m hungry and I want those medals,” said Alekna. “They will never be enough, especially when I’ve felt that taste. That hunger doesn’t go away and only grows. If I manage to avoid injuries and train as hard as I do, there will be even more titles in the future. I want to be stable in the most important competitions as it is consistency that brings medals.”

    Battling giants: Alekna is determined to win the biggest titles, but with the likes of World champion Kristjan Ceh (left) and Olympic champion Daniel Stahl (centre) performing at a high level, the men’s discus is one of the hardest track and field events to medal in. | Photo credit: Getty Images

    Battling giants: Alekna is determined to win the biggest titles, but with the likes of World champion Kristjan Ceh (left) and Olympic champion Daniel Stahl (centre) performing at a high level, the men’s discus is one of the hardest track and field events to medal in. | Photo credit: Getty Images

    It won’t come easy, for the competition is tight. With Stahl, Ceh, improving Samoan Alex Rose and Olympic, World and European bronze medallist Lukas Weisshaidinger performing at a high level, the men’s discus is one of the hardest track and field events to medal in.

    But Alekna has a champion’s obsessive intensity — he says the only time his head isn’t filled with discus thoughts is when he goes fishing. Besides, he has the advantage of chasing an extraordinary benchmark; even if he comes up short, he will have been very successful. 

    “My father is my big idol,” said Alekna. “He has shown by his example that steady work brings results. He always taught me that if you start something, you cannot stop. He’s legendary, I want to be like him one day. Maybe even be better than him? We will see what happens.”

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