She was already the golden girl of judo — now she has the medal to go with it.
Majlinda Kelmendi made history in Rio de Janiero Sunday by becoming the first athlete from Kosovo to win an Olympic medal.
The 25-year-old defeated Italy’s Odette Giuffrida in the final of the women’s 52 kg event to add Games gold to the two world titles and three European crowns she’s won since 2013.
The world No. 1, who won bronze four years ago while representing Albania, gave Kosovo its first medal since becoming a member of the International Olympic Committee two years ago.
This is the first Olympics at which athletes can compete under the flag of Kosovo, which proclaimed independence from Serbia in 2008.
Kelmendi, who was her nation’s flag bearer at the opening ceremony on Friday, says the victory is “huge” not only for her, but for Kosovo as a whole.
“I’m so happy,” she told reporters.
“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. This is the first time that Kosovo is part of the Olympics, and for the first time, I think gold is huge.
“It 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, a poor country.”