Lithuanian cross-country skier Mantas Strolia thought there would be a Strolia racing in PyeongChang, but he thought it’d be his younger brother Tautvydas Strolia. Instead, Mantas ended up qualifying over his brother.
Mantas remarked, “I started to train only last season because I just wanted to help my brother, to just to give him competition and have something in common.”
He added, “However, I was the one who made it, he didn’t. I kind of felt I pushed my brother from his dream.”
The Strolias have the Olympics in their blood. Their mother, Kazimiera Stroliene, represented Lithuania in three Olympic Games. She raced in biathlon at the 1992 and 1994 Games and competed in cross-country in the 1998 Games.
Mantas is not competing in his first Olympic Games. He competed in the Vancouver Olympics in 2010. He finished 18th in the team sprint and 26th in the individual sprint event. He ended on a high as he was selected to be the flag bearer for the closing ceremony.
Despite making the Olympics at 23 years old, Mantas stopped racing professionally after the Olympic Games because he became disillusioned with the sport.
He started training again to help his younger brother. He realized he was enjoying the sport again because there was no longer any pressure, which is what he had grown to resent the last time he competed.
“So my goal wasn’t to go to the Olympics, just to prepare for them and, because I enjoyed that, I think that was essentially what made it happen.”
Mantas has competed in four events in PyeongChang and has his final event the men’s sprint classic left. His best finish was as part of the men’s team sprint, where they finished 24th. The experience is a little bitter-sweet without his brother.
“I wasn’t as happy as I thought because my younger brother was also a part of (the qualification process) and he was just behind the line.”
His brother isn’t holding any resentment.
“But we spoke. He said, ‘I want to go if I’m the strongest’, and it’s fine to him, there’s still another Olympics and another Olympics after those Olympics.”
Mantas added, “In a way, maybe it’s good, because he has a goal to exercise for another four years.”
He has his final event in PyeongChang, the men’s 50km mass start, on Saturday. If it were Vancouver, Mantas would be worrying about his performance, but in 2018, he is competing without a coach and with a new found sense of freedom, with less weighing on him.
“I do what I want to do, I make decisions on my own,” Mantas concluded.