In Kosovo’s first appearance at the Olympic Games, the small Eastern European country garnered its first ever medal when judo star Majlinda Kelmendi claimed gold in the women’s 52kg final. Kosovo, which gained independence from neighboring Serbia in 2008, is still claimed by the Serbian government as part of its Autonomous Province of Kosovo and Metohija. The Brazil competition marks the first time the country has been eligible for the games, after being recognized by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) less than two years ago. Kelmendi said that her win was a message to “the world that Kosovo is not just a country that has gone through war,” and that she hoped her victory proved empowering for Kosovo’s younger generation. “I just proved to them that even after we survived a war, if they want something they can have it,” said Kelmendi. “If they want to be Olympic champions, they can be.”
Kelmendi, 25, a two-time former world judo champion, pinned Italy’s Odette Giuffrida, 21, for a single point yuko early in the final. Known for her nerves of steel, Kelmendi never surrendered her advantage. At the podium, the gold medal was handed out by IOC president Thomas Bach — along with some words of encouragement. “A year ago, [Bach] came to Kosovo and said, ‘I’m here to support you and I want to see you win in Rio,'” Kelmendi recalled. “Today, he said, ‘You remember that you had a dream — now you’ve realized it.’ It made me very proud.”
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