By taking gold in the 52kg women’s judo on Sunday, Majlinda Kelmendi has made history by becoming the first athlete representing Kosovo to win an Olympic medal, in what is also the first time that this country has competed at the Olympics.
Kosovo declared independence from Serbia in 2008, and although recognised by major European Union countries and the United States, Serbia, and also Russia, continue to deny the autonomy of this region.
According to the Washington Post, the National Olympic Committee of Kosovo was established in 1992, long before the territory declared independence.
Nevertheless it would be a number of years before international recognition of Kosovo in the sporting world would follow.
In 2013, one year after the International Judo Federation granted full recognition to Kosovo, Kelmendi won her first world title under the Kosovan flag in Rio de Janeiro.
In fact, this is not the first time that Kelmendi has competed at the Olympics. At the London Olympics in 2012, although she won no medals, perhaps an equally important difference for Kelmendi was that in Rio 2016 she has fought with the letters “KOS” on her back; in London 2012, her judogi read “ALB” for Albania.
Nor was this the only time Kelmendi was forced to fight under flag other than Kosovo’s. When she successfully defended her title at the 2014 world championships, once again, she was not allowed to represent Kosovo, despite having done so the previous year.
This time,because host nation Russia refused to recognise her homeland, her outfit bore the acronym “IJF” for “International Judo Federation.”
Yet in December of that year, the International Olympic Committee finally granted Kosovo official recognition.
“When we got recognized by IOC, it was the best thing that happened to Kosovo,” Kelmendi told CNN last year.
“Not just for sport but as a country, because now athletes and young kids can dream to be in the Olympics and represent Kosovo.”
Meanwhile talking about her achievement in Rio, Kelmendi is quoted on IOC website as saying, “People, especially kids, in Kosovo look to me as a hero. I just proved to them that even after the war, even after we survived a war, if they want something, they can have it. If they want to be Olympic champions, they can be. Even if we come from a small country, poor country.”
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