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Kosovan youngsters have high hopes for their most famous judoka at Olympics

/ 09:08 PM July 05, 2021
Majilinda Kelmendi judo

Kosovar Judoka Majlinda Kelmendi takes part in a training session at the Ippon judo club in the town of Peja on June 16, 2021. – Already famous for its local beer, spectacular scenery and Orthodox monastery, a small city in Kosovo has added another feather to its cap: a conveyor belt for Olympic talent. Peja, known as Pec to Serbs, on the edge of a mountainous national park with wide canyons and craggy peaks, will supply all five of Kosovo’s judo hopefuls at this summer’s Tokyo Games. Among them is Majlinda Kelmendi, who won gold at the 2016 Rio Games — the only medal Kosovo has ever won, in the only Olympics it has competed in since declaring independence from Serbia in 2008. (Photo by Armend NIMANI / AFP)

PEJA, Kosovo – Hundreds of youngsters in the Kosovan town of Peja are looking forward to watching the 2021 Tokyo Olympics and hoping that their hero Majlinda Kelmendi will win the country’s second Olympics gold medal in judo.

After becoming the best world judo player in her 52 kg category she won the gold medal in Rio 2016 Olympics.

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Last year a statue of her was erected by municipality authorities in central Peja.

The country of 1.8 million people now has more than 20 Judo clubs compared to just six before Kelmendi won Kosovo’s first Olympic gold medal.

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Kosovo declared independence in 2008 and was allowed to participate in the Olympics in Rio de Janeiro in 2016.

“She made the whole world turn their eyes towards Kosovo and it made possible to be accepted into the Olympic Games,” said Driton Kuka, Kelmendi’s coach.

She had many offers to compete for different countries before Kosovo was allowed to take part in the Olympics.

“We knew it that those millions that were offered to us (by other countries) we would never get them in Kosovo,” said Kelmendi after a tough 90-minute training session.

“But the emotions that I have experienced from the people in Kosovo is something that money cannot buy.”

Children are hoping to follow in her footsteps and compete in the Olympics.

One nine-year-old said he had watched all Kelmendi’s matches on YouTube. “I am much better now,” he said.

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