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Majlinda Kelmendi wins Kosovo's 1st Olympic medal

RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) " Go gold or go home.

Majlinda Kelmendi won Kosovo's first Olympic medal on Sunday, taking gold in the women's 52-kilogram judo division.

The top-ranked Kelmendi, the young country's best-known athlete, was the favorite heading into the competition. She scored only once against Odette Giuffrida in the final, but it was enough to beat the Italian.

"To be honest, I came here for the gold medal, but it's crazy," Kelmendi said. "This is the first time that Kosovo is part of the Olympics, and for the first time, I think gold is huge."

After her victory was announced, Kelmendi hugged Giuffrida and then walked off the mat in tears. Wearing a blue uniform " one that matched many of the Kosovo flags being waved in the arena " a teary Kelmendi waved to the crowd and raised her arms.

Kelmendi has struggled for years to represent her country, which declared independence from Serbia in 2008, in the Japanese martial art.

At the 2012 London Games, she represented Albania because Kosovo was not recognized by the International Olympic Committee until 2014. Four years ago, Kelmendi lost to Christianne Legentil of Mauritius in the second round.

In Rio de Janeiro, the two met again and Kelmendi advanced.

She said her toughest fight on Sunday was the semifinal bout against Misato Nakamura, a three-time world champion and one of the judoka who has inspired her.

The 24-year-old Kelmendi is also a former world champion and was her country's flagbearer when the eight-member Kosovo team walked in the opening ceremony. She has Kosovo and Albanian citizenship and started judo in Sarajevo when she was 8, when her sister convinced her to give it a try.

"I always wanted to be part of the Olympic Games with the Kosovo flag and the Kosovo anthem," she said. "I had dreamed for this moment for so long and I had refused so many offers, so many millions from other countries (to represent them).

"There are no millions in the world that can make me feel how I feel today."

The bronze medals went to Nakamura, who also won a bronze at the Beijing Games, and Natalia Kuziutina of Russia.

In the men's 66-kilogram division, 26th-ranked Fabio Basile of Italy surprised top-ranked An Baul of South Korea by flipping him for an immediate victory less than two minutes into the fight.

"It's hard to believe that it's not still a dream," Basile said.

The bronze medals were won by Rishod Sobirov of Uzbekistan and Masashi Ebinuma of Japan.

This story has been automatically published from the Associated Press wire which uses US spellings

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