Olympic judo legend Majlinda Kelmendi announces retirement

Kosovo’s first ever Olympic gold medallist is officially stepping back from the sport after a trailblazing career that saw her become a double world champion and a four-time European champion.

By Chloe Merrell

Kosovan Majlinda Kelmendi has officially announced her retirement from competitive judo.

The 30-year-old, whose extensive curriculum vitae includes two world championship titles, four European titles and an Olympic gold medal, was an indomitable force in the women’s -52kg category.

Kelmendi's crowning achievement came at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games after she became not just her country's first ever Olympic gold medallist, but their first ever medallist.

The all-conquering Kosovan, who had carried her country’s flag into the Maracana stadium just days prior, overcame Italy's Odette Giuffrida in the final courtesy of a single point from a yuko.

Her journey to gold also saw her defeat Japan’s two-time bronze medallist Misato Nakamura in the semi-finals.

Reacting to her landmark achievement at the time she said: “I’m so happy for me, for my coach, for all my country. This is the first time that Kosovo is part of the Olympics, and for the first time, I think gold is huge.”

"I won it all, I think I brought Kosovo a lot of emotions, a lot of tears, so, it is the turn of others," said Kelmendi after her last bout at Tokyo 2020, where she lost to Hungary's Reka Pupp in the first round.

Add into the mix her 18 IJF World Tour medals and four consecutive wins at the prestigious Paris Grand Slam, it is safe to say that the Kosovan left an impressionable mark on the judo world.

On the news of Kelmendi’s retirement her coach Driton Kuka shared with the IJF:

“Majlinda is a heroine for all the people of Kosovo.”

“She is more than just a judoka and world and Olympic champion… She has been a key to the development of our sport in the country. That’s why she is more than an athlete. She is and was my athlete, but she is much more, my heroine, just as she is for every single person in Kosovo.”

Kuka added that the Rio 2016 champion intends to move into a coaching role.

Perhaps the greatest retirement gift for Kelmendi is the legacy her victories on judo’s biggest stages have had one those around her.

At Tokyo 2020 her winning influence was in full force after her compatriots Nora Gjakova and Distria Krasniqi both picked up gold in their respective categories.

They have both credited Kelmendi for inspiring them along the way.