Izmir Smajlaj, imazhi i revistës Olmpike të Komitetit Europian Maj 2021
‘Rruga drejt Tokios:
Medalja e parë e lojrave Olimpike në kategorinë kercim së gjati nga Izmir Smajlaj ka bërë emër në Shqipëri. Ai është kampion i kërcimit për së gjati për 18 vite me radhë në Shqiperi.
Mban rekordin për 14 here, gjithashtu i vetmi atlet shqiptar qe ka fituar kampionatin e atletikes’. Ndër të tjera artikulli dedikues.
Izmir Smajlajhas made quite a name for himself in Albania.
He’s been national long jump champion for 18 straight years, held the national record for 14, and is also the only Albanian athlete to have won a major athletics championship, a feat he accomplished by claiming gold at the 2017 European Indoor Championship in Belgrade.
This year he’s aiming to level up even further by medalling at the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020, which will be his second Games after Rio 2016.
“It was and is always an honour to be part of such a great competition, and the fact that I will be participating in Tokyo, it helps me achieve more of the goals I have for my sport career,” says Smajlaj, who in April was also unanimously elected Athletes’ Representative on the Executive Board of the Albanian National Olympic Committee. “Of course, five years have passed since Rio [where he finished 21st] and now I’m more prepared and confident in what I want to achieve at this Olympics.
“My goal for Tokyo is to reach the final, and I certainly expect a good personal best result. Maybe with a bit of luck even a podium finish!”
Smajlaj’s legendarystatus at home would certainly be cemented should that happen, as it would be Albania’s first Olympic medal since the country first took part at the Olympic Games at Munich 1972.
It’s an almost 50-year drought the 28-year-old would love to put an end to this summer.
“Albania is a small country, and I have already entered in the history of Albanian sport as the first European Champion with clear results and records,” he says. “But if I was to win an Olympic medal, it would be the greatest achievement of my sport career and the country I represent will be really proud of me.”
It already is. In addition to his national heroics and European title, Smajlaj is also a four-time Balkan Champion, a 2018 Small States of Europe champion, and a rather proficient triple jumper to boot, with the national record in that discipline also belonging to him.
The COVID-19 pandemic clearly threw a spanner in the works for all Olympians last year, with the most obvious upheaval being the postponement of Tokyo 2020 by a year. Smajlaj says that while his daily routine was turned upside down and he became frustrated with so many competitions being cancelled, he has gradually found his groove again, evidenced by the four competitions he has already won in 2021in Vienna, Istanbul, Belgrade and Tirana.
“It is true that I have won 4 gold medals in difficult competitions this 2021 winter season,” he says. “Truth is that I’m feeling good, and I am training intensively to be part of the Olympic Games, where I do believe that I’ll be in the finals.”
That’s the kind of winning mentality Olympic champions tend to possess. And his positive mindset is all the more impressive considering that he was side-lined by injury only a few months ago. “Sport has it’s difficulties, and among them are injuries,” he says. “I suffered a meniscus tear during a competition and underwent surgery in August 2020. I recovered slowly, but fortunately right now I’m feeling better, and my knee is also in good condition.”