Kosovan youngsters have high hopes for their most famous judoka at Olympics

PEJA, Kosovo, July 5 (Reuters) - Hundreds of youngsters in the Kosovan town of Peja are looking forward to watching the 2021 Tokyo Olympics and hoping that their hero Majlinda Kelmendi will win the country's second Olympics gold medal in judo.

Kelmendi, aged 30, became an inspiration for many in Kosovo, which has suffered years of warfare, when she started to bring back trophies to her hometown.

After becoming the best world judo player in her 52 kg category she won the gold medal in Rio 2016 Olympics.

Last year a statue of her was erected by municipality authorities in central Peja.

The country of 1.8 million people now has more than 20 Judo clubs compared to just six before Kelmendi won Kosovo's first Olympic gold medal.

Kosovo declared independence in 2008 and was allowed to participate in the Olympics in Rio de Janeiro in 2016.

"She made the whole world turn their eyes towards Kosovo and it made possible to be accepted into the Olympic Games," said Driton Kuka, Kelmendi’s coach.

She had many offers to compete for different countries before Kosovo was allowed to take part in the Olympics. "We knew it that those millions that were offered to us (by other countries) we would never get them in Kosovo," said Kelmendi after a tough 90-minute training session. "But the emotions that I have experienced from the people in Kosovo is something that money cannot buy." Children are hoping to follow in her footsteps and compete in the Olympics.

One nine-year-old said he had watched all Kelmendi's matches on YouTube. "I am much better now," he said.

Reporting by Ivana Sekularac and Fatos Bytyci; Editing by Angus MacSwan

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