Rio 2016: Albania to participate with only a handful of athletes

Tirana Times
By Tirana Times July 8, 2016 14:32

Rio 2016: Albania to participate with only a handful of athletes

TIRANA, July 8 – With less than one month to go before the Olympics kick-off, Albania has officially announced its team of five athletes for the Rio 2016, one of the country’s smallest teams as it prepares to make its eighth appearance at the Summer Olympics.

Runner Luiza Gega is the only athlete to have qualified for the Olympic Games after finishing first in the Women’s 1500 meters in the Baku 2015 European Games and is the country’s only hope to bring home a first ever Olympic medal. Gega, 27, will Albania’s flag bearer at the Rio Olympics.

“For the first time Albania received a medal in an Olympic event such as the European Games. The gold medal won by Luiza Gega makes us optimistic about Rio 2016,” Viron Bezhani, the president of the Albanian Olympic Committee, has said.

An internationally successful athlete, runner Luiza Gega won a 1500m silver medal at the 2013 Mediterranean Games and a 1500m bronze medal at the 2013 Universiade.

The four other Olympic athletes, weightlifter Briken Calja, swimmers Sidni Hoxha and Nikol Merizaj, long jumper Izmir Smajlaj have all received invitations after failing to qualify directly.

The Rio Olympics are blow to Albanian weightlifting, which has traditionally been Albania’s best performing sport in international competitions.

Back in late 2014, Albania’s weightlifting was hit by a doping scandal which saw three weightlifters, two of whom medal winners at the world weightlifting championship in Kazakhstan, suspended for testing positive for banned substances.

The Rio 2016 appearance with five athletes is Albania’s poorest since Sydney 2000 when Albania was represented by four athletes.

However, several former Albanian athletes are participating in the Olympics.

Three former Albanian athletes will represent the United States, Australia and Bulgaria in the Rio 2016 Olympics where Albania will be participating with a reduced number of athletes.

Shooter Enkeleda Shehaj is returning to the Olympics after two decades to represent the U.S. after the 1996 Atlanta participation as an Albanian athlete.

Former Albania freestyle wrestler Sahit Prizreni has also qualified to represent Australia in the Rio Olympics.

Another former Albanian wrestler, Elis Guri, will represent Bulgaria in the Summer Olympics.

The London 2012 was Albania’s seventh participation in the Olympic Games since its debut in 1972. Albania sent a team of four shooters and a weightlifter to the Munich 1972 Olympic Games but the team did not reappear at the Olympic Games until 1992 when the communist regime collapsed.

In 1972, Albania’s Ymer Pampuri broke the Olympic record for the press at featherweight and finished ninth overall. More recently, Ilirjan Suli finished fifth in the men’s middleweight category at the Sydney 2000 Olympic Games and Romela Begaj was sixth in the women’s lightweight at Beijing 2008. In Beijing, Albania’s team of 11 was the largest in their history.

More than 10,000 athletes from 206 countries will be participating in the 2016 Summer Olympics that will be held in Brazil’s Rio de Janeiro from August 5 to 21. Kosovo is also making its debut participation after joining the International Olympic Committee in late 2014.

Judoka Majlinda Kelmendi, who represented Albania at London 2012, but will be competing for her native Kosovo in Rio is a medal favourite after having been crowned European and world champion.

 

 

 

 

Tirana Times
By Tirana Times July 8, 2016 14:32