Albin Tahiri of Kosovo carries the national flag during the opening ceremony of the Pyeongchang 2018 Winter Olympic Games at the Pyeongchang Stadium on February 9.

Albin Tahiri of Kosovo carries the national flag during the opening ceremony of the Pyeongchang 2018 Winter Olympic Games at the Pyeongchang Stadium on February 9.201

Skier Albin Tahiri will miss Kosovo’s 10th-anniversary celebrations next week — but as the country’s first winter Olympian, he thinks his 1.8 million compatriots will forgive him while he competes in the Pyeongchang Games that began on February 9.

While it has snow-capped mountains offering steep slopes and deep powder, Kosovo didn’t exist as a country until it broke free from Serbia in 2008, nearly a decade after a NATO-led bombing campaign pushed out Serbian forces to end a brutal crackdown on ethnic Albanians during a two-year battle for independence.

Now the 28-year-old Tahiri will compete in all five alpine-ski events in South Korea, one of 115 countries that recognize Kosovo as a country.

“When I started skiing, Kosovo was not an independent country,” says the Slovenian-born Tahiri, who carried Kosovo’s flag into the Olympic Stadium during the opening ceremonies.

“My father always cheered for Kosovar athletes and I did it as well, so when Kosovo proclaimed independence I wanted to help by representing the country as an athlete,” he adds.

Kosovo’s inclusion in the Olympics was not always a given.

Serbia lobbied hard to block Kosovo from being recognized as a separate Olympic country and it wasn’t until the International Olympic Committee granted such a status to Kosovo in late 2014 that it made its debut at the Summer Olympics two years later in Brazil, which still does not formally recognize Kosovo as an independent country.

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