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Brod (Kosovo) (AFP) – Young, determined and ready to take risks, slalom skier Kiana Kryeziu’s journey to the Olympics mirrors recent history in her native Kosovo, with the teenage skier set to become its first winter Olympian when she travels to Beijing.
“It’s a very big honour,” Kryeziu told AFP during his final training session in Kosovo ahead of the Winter Games, which begin in China next week.
“I really want to put Kosovo as high in the rankings as possible.”
The 17-year-old giant slalom specialist’s success has sparked national pride in Kosovo, where economic hardship and perennial problems over his disputed 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 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 offers the possibility of greater visibility and international recognition.
Since declaring independence in 2008 – a decision that has been ignored by Serbia, Russia and China in particular – Kosovo has participated in only a handful of Olympics after the country joined the International Olympic Committee in 2014.
Despite its small population of 1.8 million, Kosovo has punched above its weight so far, winning three gold medals in judo.
“Our representation at these Olympics certainly boosts the image of our state,” said Ismet Krasniqi, chairman of the Kosovo Olympic Committee.
Hot on the heels of Kosovo’s success in Tokyo last summer, Kryeziu will be hoping to keep the momentum going on his Winter Olympics debut.
Kryeziu started skiing when she was very young and immediately fell in love with the sport thanks to the support of her family who pushed her to pursue her dreams of professional competition.
“It was like carrying a mountain on our shoulders,” says his father Visar.
“Considering the fact that alpine skiing is a very expensive sport to run and considering Kosovo’s GDP…this is an important step to take and reach the Olympics,” he added.
A few years later, Kryeziu is now ready to face the best in the world.
“I’m going to ski with my idols and the people I’ve been watching on TV for a long time,” Kryeziu said. “I think it will be amazing.”
© 2022 AFP