The Olympics are a place where athletes from small countries can become instant heroes, and Rio just created an icon for an Eastern European country.
Majlinda Kelmendi won the gold medal in the under 52 kg division of judo, becoming the first athlete from Kosovo to win an Olympic medal. The 2013 and 2014 World Champion took down Evelyne Tschopp of Switzerland, Christianne Legentil of Mauritus and Misato Nakamura of Japan before defeating Odette Giuffrida of Italy in the gold medal match.
The victory is a moment of personal redemption for Kelmendi. She was the favorite entering the 2012 Olympic Games, but she lost to Legentil in the second round of the tournament in what was considered a major upset. She was also unable attempt to three peat her World Championship, as she was injured last year and unable to compete.
The Pride Of Kosovo
Kelmendi already had a memorable Olympic Games prior to Sunday, as she became the first person to be the flag bearer for Kosovo in the Olympics.
The IOC did not recognize Kosovo as an independent country prior to the 2012 Games, so Kelmendi represented Albania in London. The International Judo Federation, however, recognized Kosovo in 2013, so when Kelmendi won the gold medal that year, she became the first ever World Champion to represent Kosovo; however, she competed as an independent athlete in 2014 when the World Championships were held in Russia as Russia did not recognize Kosovo as an independent nation. The IOC officially recognized Kosovo at the end of 2014.
Kelmendi lead the Kosovo delegation, which sent eight athletes to Rio, in the Opening Ceremonies. She has said that she hoped to give her home country a reason to laugh and smile as they continue to heal. It is safe to say Kelmendi has done more than that, as she has become a hero in her home country.