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.
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?
- Kosovo is the second youngest country in the world, declaring its independence on the 17th February 2008.
- Kosovo, a landlocked country slightly larger than Delaware, is the smallest Balkan nation. About 40 percent of its land is covered by forest, and slightly more than half of its land is agricultural.
- With an average age of 29 years, Kosovo sits amongst the youngest populated countries in Europe. More than 40 percent of the population is under the age of 25.
- Albanian and Serbian languages are serving as the country’s official languages. Kosovo means “field of blackbirds” in Serbian.
- Mother Teresa lived in a small village in Kosovo as a teenager.
Author: Szandra Szogedi