Kosovo athletes to fly the flag with pride in Rio

Mon Aug 1, 2016 6:46pm EDT
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By Fatos Bytyci

ROGANE, Kosovo (Reuters) - Kosovo's 400 meters runner Vijona Kryeziu has been training for the Olympic Games in the mountains around her native village of Rogane, fulfilling a dream that until recently seemed impossible to many of her country's athletes.

The Rio Games will be the first to host athletes competing under the flag of Kosovo, which proclaimed independence from Serbia in 2008, nine years after a NATO bombing campaign to drive Serbian forces from its territory.

"I am very lucky to be part of these Games," Kryeziu, 18, said.

To pursue their careers before, many athletes from the small Balkan country had to leave their home towns to participate under another country's flag.

During London 2012, judo double world champion Majlinda Kelmendi had to compete for Albania. In Rio she will proudly carry the Kosovo flag at the opening ceremony.

"It is big success for Kosovo that is represented for the first time with its flag," President Hashim Thaci said on Friday when he handed over the flag to Kelmendi. "This is the break of isolation from sport after almost three decades."

Summing up the jubilation of many, he said last month on Twitter: "We may get gold, we may not, still #heroes."

Kosovo finally became member of the Olympic Committee in 2014. This year it joined UEFA and FIFA.   Continued...

Kosovo's 400 metres runner Vijona Kryeziu runs in the woods of the village Rogane in Kamenica, Kosovo, July 30, 2016. Kryeziu trains in the woods because there was no athletics stadium nearby. The Rio Games will be the first to host athletes competing under the flag of Kosovo.  REUTERS/Hazir Reka