Judoka Kelmendi gets first Olympic gold for Kosovo

Majlinda Kelmendi made Olympic history for Kosovo in Rio on Sunday with the nation's first-ever medal at the Games, a gold in women's judo.

Kelmendi, 25, beat Italy's Odette Giuffrida in the final of the 52-kilo category with a Yuko score, with Russia's Natalia Kuziotina and Misato Nakamura of Japan taking the bronze.

Italy did better on the men's side when Fabio Basile claimed the 200th gold medal for the nation overall at the Olympics, beating South Korea's An Baul in the 66kg category. Uzbekistan's Rishod Sobirov and Masashi Ebinuma earned the bronze medals.

Kelmendi meanwhile is a world champion from 2013 and 2014, and was Kosovo's flag bearer at the opening ceremony Friday.

The nation is making its Olympic debut in Rio eight years after its independence from Serbia, and after its Olympic Committee was recognized by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) in 2014.

Kosovo is now the 100th country to win an Olympic gold, and the 148th to medal. Kelmendi received her gold from IOC president Thomas Bach, himself a former fencer and 1976 gold medallist.

"I'm so happy. To be honest, I came here for the gold medal, but it's crazy. I'm so happy for me, for my coach, for all my country," Kelmendi said.

"This is the first time that Kosovo is part of the Olympics, and for the first time, I think gold is huge."

"That means a lot. 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."

Giuffrida said: "It is a strange feeling. One part of me is very happy for this medal. I am just 21 years old and these are my first Olympic Games. But I can't say that I am fully happy. I wanted the gold medal."

Kelmendi's win may have not gone down well in Serbia, where Sports Minister Vanja Udovicic was quoted as saying on the state TV website that the government has recommended to their athletes boycott victory ceremonies if Kosovo athletes are on the podium as well.

Confronted with the statement during a media briefing earlier Sunday, IOC spokesman Mark Adams said he could not comment because he was not aware of Udovicic's remarks.

Last update: Mon, 08/08/2016 - 00:03
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