Week 90 (20 - 26 June 2015)
Azerbaijan's hosting of the inaugural European Games has not only been historic for their being the first ever continental multi-sport Games held in Europe – they also mark the first time that the Republic of Kosovo has competed in a major international sports event.
The appearance of the 18 athletes competing under the Kosovan flag in Baku has largely been down to the determination of the Kosovo NOC President, Besim Hasani, a man whose natural tenacity and resilience have served him well during his long journey in helping Kosovo gain full IOC recognition, which happened at the Extraordinary IOC Session in Monaco last December.
In Baku, his dream then became a firm reality when flag bearer Majlinda Kelmendi, a two-time judo world champion, led the Kosovan delegation into Baku's Olympic Stadium for the Opening Ceremony.
During the first two weeks of a stunning inaugural European Games, Kosovan athletes have competed shoulder to shoulder with their European counterparts across nine sports. Supporting them all the way has been Besani – but he has also had to get used to the busy schedule of duties an NOC President is expected to take on during a major Games, one of which – and perhaps one of the most daunting of the lot for a non-native English speaker – is doing interviews with international media. Yet Besani is a natural.
In a series of interviews in Baku, Besani has charted Kosovo's story – which is so strongly linked to his own – in clear, emotive and exciting terms, and gained traction for his cause in the international media. His effusive smiling during interviews and his constant, but controlled, gesticulation are useful props for delivering his narrative as well.
"My dream became part of the Olympic dream," he told Agence France Presse this week. "When you start a dream it is something when it works out, you cannot describe it.
"It's fabulous. There were tears, everything in terms of emotion was there after so many years.
"I thought then 'now I can die tomorrow'. Of course I changed my mind!"
Hasani has been President of the Kosovo National Olympic Committee since 1996 and has employed extraordinary, and at times hair-raising, diplomacy over the past 20 years in order to see his vision through of Kosovo joining the Olympic Movement.
But his efforts had to play out against the backdrop of Kosovo's sensitive relationship with Serbia, meaning Besani even felt for his life.
He said: "I was prepared to be arrested, to be beaten or even to be killed and my family knew that."
But for Hasani, the reward of seeing his countrymen represent Kosovo on an international sporting stage was clearly well worth the threats and the strife he went through to make it happen.
"For more than 22 years, our athletes didn't have the opportunity to take part in international events, so recognition by IOC and later EOC of our National Olympic Committee enabled us to participate in these European Games," Besani told Around the Rings.
"And for the first time, we saw our athletes parading with our flag in front of a huge crowd and many international television viewers.
"It was a fantastic moment for us – a historic day."
For the NOC of Kosovo, the history making is only just beginning.
Photo: Around the Rings