Portugal Colonial - Kosovo's first female Winter Olympian aims for glory in China

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Kosovo's first female Winter Olympian aims for glory in China
Kosovo's first female Winter Olympian aims for glory in China

Kosovo's first female Winter Olympian aims for glory in China

Young, determined and willing to take chances, slalom skier Kiana Kryeziu's journey to the Olympics mirrors the recent history of her native Kosovo with the teenage skier set to become its first female Winter Olympian when she heads to Beijing.

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"It is a very big honour," Kryeziu told AFP during her last training session in Kosovo ahead of the Winter Games, which kick off in China next week.

"I really want to put Kosovo as high as I can on the leaderboard."

The success of the 17-year-old giant slalom specialist has stirred national pride in Kosovo, where economic woes and perennial problems linked to its contested status due to an ongoing dispute with Serbia weigh heavily on much of the population.

"I live for news like this. We are tired of the depressing stories about the coronavirus, environmental pollution and the energy crisis," said Gentian Haxhiu, a 26-year-old business student.

For many in Kosovo, success in sport provides an avenue for wider visibility and greater international recognition.

Since declaring independence in 2008 -- a move that was ignored by Serbia, Russia, and China notably -- Kosovo has competed in just a handful of Olympic Games after the nation joined the International Olympic Committee in 2014.

Despite its tiny population of 1.8 million, Kosovo has punched above its weight so far, earning three gold medals in judo.

"Our representation in this Olympics certainly strengthens the image of our state," said Ismet Krasniqi, the chair of Kosovo’s Olympic Committee.

Following on the heels of Kosovo's success in Tokyo last summer, Kryeziu is hoping to keep the momentum going during her Winter Olympics debut.

Kryeziu first started skiing as a toddler and instantly fell in love with the sport thanks to the backing of her family who pushed her to follow her dreams of competing professionally.

“It was like carrying a mountain on our shoulders,” admits her father Visar.

"Taking into consideration that Alpine skiing is a very expensive sport to deal with and having in mind Kosovo's GDP… this is a huge milestone to cross and to reach the Olympic Games," he added.

Just a few years later, Kryeziu is now set to compete against the world's best.

"I will be skiing with my idols and the people I've been watching on TV for a long time," said Kryeziu. "I think it will be amazing."