By Ricardo Cruz
Big 12 Campus Correspondent
The bond that teammates share is strong, but the bond of teammates from the same country is even stronger. Kansas State track and field athletes Martynas Jurgilas and Mantas Silkauskas share that bond.
Both come from the city of Kaunas, Lithuania. The journey the two have taken to Manhattan, Kan. has been long and very rewarding.
Jurgilas, a senior has been a staple in the indoor 60 meter dash for the Wildcats. Last season the sprinter took first place in three meets, including a personal best of 6.65 at the Husker Invitational. His choice to attend K-State was an easy one after seeing the success of another Lithuanian and Olympian, Austra Skujyte.
"I knew Austra Skujyte, she was second (in the heptathlon) at the Athens Olympic Games, and that also said for me that it would be a good place to continue my career in track."
Having one of the best track and field coaches in the nation was also an added bonus for Jurgilas.
"I liked coach (Cliff Rovelto) and I knew that a person with so much experience might help me to get better," Jurgilas said.
It can be difficult for an athlete to cope with a culture change. For Jurgilas, he never let it become a problem. "I wouldn't say that it was hard to get used to new culture, I came here and I just did what I had to do. Less thinking at moments like that is better than over thinking."
Having teammates who are from the same city and can speak the same language can certainly ease someone into a new living situation.
"Yes, it helped for sure. When everything is new, everything is useful," said Jurgilas.
Coach Rovelto has seen the strides that Jurgilas has made since his first year at K-State.
"His personal bests have improved, and we expect to see him shine more in the outdoor season" said Rovelto. "He is much better in the 100 and 200 meter."
Silkauskas, also a senior, has had a similar journey to K-State.
"Coach Rovelto was basically the reason, we contacted each other and just started talking about coming here," said Silkauskas.
Mantas also feels that there is a bond between Jurgilas and himself.
"Yes because we speak the same language and other things."
Growing up in one of the largest cities in Lithuania, it was the competitive nature that brought the two together.
"I knew Martynas before K-State because we grew up in the same city and we practiced on the same track."
A combined events athlete, Silkauskas has seen the benefits of coming to K-State in his performances and his coach has also seen the improvements that he has made.
"He is light years ahead from where he was at that point in time," said Rovelto. "His speed has improved a lot and he is just better at everything."
Last season, Silkauskas finished third at the Big 12 Indoor Championship and seventh at the NCAA Indoor Championship. This year, he looks on track to finish even better. He has already set a personal best time this season in the 60 meter hurdles with a time of 7.69. If Silkauskas continues to train and put the effort into his performances, Rovelto believes he will be a favorite to become an NCAA Indoors Champion in the heptathlon.
The Lithuanian connection shared by the two, can be used as a training tool as both men look to end their senior seasons on a high note.
It is also a special year for the duo. Both will look to make a push and earn a spot on the Lithuanian Olympic Team. If Jurgilas and Silkauskas can make the Olympic team, it will just be another chapter in the journey that the two have shared.
As they continue to train for this season and possibly the Olympics, both share the same feelings and mindset as they hope to represent their country.
"I think biggest accomplishments while I was here was being in top 15 last indoors and making the nationals" said Jurgilas. "I hope this year I will have my biggest accomplishment, if I make the Olympic Games."
Silkauskas also feels that he has more to prove. "My heptathlon finish was pretty good last year, but I still feel like that my best has yet to come and hopefully this year will be my best."