August 27 - Majlinda Kelmendi gave Kosovo their first ever major senior title in an Olympic sport when she won the gold medal in the under 52 kilograms category at the judo World Championships here today.
The 22-year-old from Peć justified her number one ranking by beating Brazil's Erika Miranda in the gold medal match before a hostile crowd in an arena whose name translates as "Little Maracanã" as it is in the shadow of arguably the world's most famous football stadium.
Kelmendi, winner of the world junior title in 2009, beat her 26-year-old opponent after stepping back from an ouchi-gari attempt by the Brazilian and threw her with an uchi-mata for a waza-ari.
"I'm really excited by what I've achieved. I never expected to win this title so soon after winning the junior World Championships," said Kelmendi, who received her gold medal from Pat Hickey, President of the European Olympic Committees.
"It's very emotional for me and I'm so proud of this result today."
For Kosovans the result meant much more than just sport.
Since declaring itself as an independent country in 2008 it has been involved in a bitter campaign for international recognition.
The country is currently not recognised by the International Olympic Committee which meant Kelmendi was forced to compete for Albania at London 2012.
Her journey was captured brilliantly by Caroline Rowland in the official Olympic film of those Games, First, only for her to be knocked out in the last 16 and being left too distraught to speak afterwards.
Following this victory Kelmendi tightly embraced her coach, Driton Kuka, who she shares a deep bond with.
Kuka did not compete at the Barcelona Olympics in 1992 as the conflict began in the former Yugoslavia before causing him to join the Kosovo Liberation Army, the forerunner of the Albanian separatist forces who fought the Yugoslav Government and ethnic Serbs in the Kosovo war.
Leading the tributes to Kelmendi after this victory was Kosovo's Minister of Culture, Youth and Sport, Memli Krasniqi, who wrote on Twitter: "Majlinda Kelmendi is the Judo World Champion! A spectacular victory and a historic moment for Kosovo sport! I can't wait to see the Kosovo flag raised and hear our anthem played."
Kelmendi's victory was also an emotional moment for Marius Vizer, President of the International Judo Federation, who has provided support to help her and to encourage the sport in Kosovo.
"I'm so happy that she won - it was a great moment," he told insidethegames.
The bronze medals were won by Germany's Mareen Kraeh and Japan's Yuki Hashimoto.
But Japan claimed their second men's title of these Championships in the under 66kg category with Masashi Ebinuma retaining the title he had won in Paris two years ago.
The 23-year-old overcame Kazakhstan's Azamat Mukanov in the final, ending a fairytale run to the final for the youngster whose best performance - before this tournament - was a bronze medal in the Asian Championships.
But Ebinuma's victory did not come without a price.
He was clearly in pain after refusing to submit to an ude-garami attempt but stormed back to throw Mukanov, 22, with an ouchi-gari for an ippon.
Ebinuma had controversially won an Olympic bronze medal at London 2012 after a unanimous judges' decision against him in favour of South Korea's Jo Jun-Ho was overturned following a television review and after an ippon against him by Poland's Pawel Zagrodnik in the playoff match was downgraded to a waza-ari, in both cases saving him from defeat.
But this victory, coming a day after teammate Naohisa Takato had won gold in the under 60kg category, helped erase that unpleasant memory.
Ebinuma had beaten Brazil's Charles Chibana, the Moscow Grand Slam champion, in the semi-final when, with only 14 seconds left on the clock, he had thrown him for a waza-ari and held down the home favourite with a mune-gatame for ippon
"It was my second world title but I didn't have that on my mind," said Ebinuma.
"I wanted to make amends for my Olympic result and all my focus this year has been on the World Championships.
"In the semi-final I fought Chibana, who was very powerful and motivated by the home crowd,
"I'm very pleased with the result."
Adding to the crowd's disappointment, Chibana failed to bounce back to win a bronze medal, as he was beaten by another Japanese, Masaaki Fukuoka.
The other bronze was won by Ukraine's Georgii Zantaraia, the under 60kg 2009 world champion, who overcame Russia's Mikhail Pulyaev.
It was the fourth consecutive World Championships he had won a medal, having also claimed silver at Paris in 2011 and bronze at Tokyo in 2010 in the lighter category.
This performance helped justify his decision to move up a weight category last year and he also had the memory of beating Mongolia's world number Tumurkhuleg Davaadorj in the first round.
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Photos©IJF Media by T. Zahonyi and G. Sabau
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