24 March 2023



Kosovo, the country which lies at the centre of the Balkans. Kosovo, the country where the estimated 1.8 million population spreads out across 10,887sq km. The people are humble, yet hard working. The hospitality is beyond exceptional. Pristina is the capital; yet it is the city of Peja where less than a week ago, the Kosovan judo community celebrated their 50th anniversary of judo. Today, the country, which received their official recognition by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) in 2014, holds three Olympic gold medals.

L-R: Distria KRASNIQI, Majlinda KELMENDI and Nora GJAKOVA. The 3 Olympic gold medallists from Kosovo. @dritonkuka © Szandra Szogedi

The Kosova Judo Federation was actually established in 2001, yet, it was way before when the the first judo club was opened by Smajl SOKOLI. Today, the total of 1200 judoka registered is amongst 15 judo clubs. Kosovo’s judo prodigy, Majlinda KELMENDI first experienced the excitement of the Biggest Show on Earth under the Albanian flag when she competed at the London 2012 Olympic Games. The breaking news of joining IOC presented the opportunity to fly her home country to the Rio 2016 Olympic Games. She did that and more when delivering the first ever Olympic gold medal, not only in judo, but for the country as whole. Before she got hold of the most precious gold, she marked history by becoming the first ever world champion in 2013, also in Rio de Janeiro. In 2014, she once again strived with another world title which added nicely to her historical European gold. If that hasn’t impressed you enough, it is better known that Kelmendi holds the Guinness World Record for the most gold medals won on the IJF world tour, from 7th May 2010 to 24th October 2019. Today, she is coaching yet another incredible set of judoka and together, they are celebrating medals from all over the world, week in and week out.

The Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games brought a double sweep with two gold medals for Kosovo, namely Distria KRASNIQI (-48kg) and Nora GJAKOVA (-57kg). Kosovo has a total of seven senior world championships medals. With Doha 2023 World Championships being less than two months away, this tally is likely to need upgrading.

Akil GJAKOVA celebrating his European title in 2021 Lisbon @gabijuan

Anton CENA claimed gold at the 2018 Veteran European Championships @carlosferreira

Laura FAZLIU won gold at the u23 Europeans in 2022 @carlosferreira

Erza MUMINOVIQ cherishing the moment she won bronze at the junior World Championships 2021 @IJF

Loriana KUKA is another solid member of the team, whilst also World Championships bronze medallist of 2019 @IJF

The main man behind the glories… Driton KUKA @EmanueleDiFeliciantonio

As per the juniors, the country holds two junior world gold medals with the cadet world title yet to be accomplished. Surely, that is around the corner too. Anton CENA banked yet another world title for the team, this time it was from the 2021 Veteran World Championships.

Now, when it comes to the continental championships, this team is well established. The total of 19 senior European medals have been claimed by Kosovo to date. Seven of which have been golden glories. The team has also won continental championships at cadet, junior, u23 and veteran stages. The main man behind all these victories is ever modest head coach, Driton KUKA. The Kosova Judo Federation has shown their incredible work in the past 10 odd years, surpassing many other countries with almost a century of existing judo classes, and undoubtedly, this is just the beginning.

Off the mat… Did you know?


Author: Szandra Szogedi