By Mark Trevelyan
PYEONGCHANG, South Korea (Reuters) – Dentist Albin Tahiri has waited years to become Kosovo’s first Winter Olympian and now that he has made it to Pyeongchang, he is not doing things by halves.
Tahiri, whose country declared independence from Serbia a decade ago, is the only Kosovar athlete at the Games and plans to take part in all five individual Alpine skiing events before going home to pick up his drill again.
In his first outing in the men’s combined on Tuesday, where many better-known skiers took tumbles as they strained to pick up time on the slalom leg, he was doggedly determined to make it to the bottom of the course and claimed 37th place.
“It was really icy, so I had a lot of problems. But when I saw the other guys fall out, I decided just to finish it because it’s our first race and I wanted to finish my first competition at the Olympics,” he told Reuters at the foot of the mountain.
Born in Slovenia to a Slovenian mother and a Kosovo-Albanian father, Tahiri has long dreamed of representing Kosovo at the Olympics, but the country, which lacks ideal skiing conditions, only received International Olympic Committee recognition in 2014.
“They have mountains but the infrastructure is really bad. The chairlifts are really old, especially, the slope is not prepared all the time,” he said.
For that reason he trains mostly in Austria, Italy and Slovenia, where he lives, and has just graduated in dentistry — a subject that seems to excite him as much as skiing.
“During these years that I’ve been waiting for Kosovo becoming Olympic family I just simply decided not to wait and to study instead — so I graduated in dentistry, which was my passion. Actually, oral surgery is my passion,” he added.
“I just graduated now, I have one more year of internship and then I’m thinking about full mouth reconstruction with implantation and so on, something like that, a bit of oral surgery, a bit of prosthetics. Maybe I’ll fix some things from the skiers… no, I’m just kidding.”
The downhill specialist, who turns 29 on Thursday and has Kosovar relatives scattered as far afield as Canada, is already turning his thoughts to the 2022 Olympics in Beijing.
And he sees a good fit between his sporting and dental interests: “With private practice I’ll have more money to train.”
(Reporting by Mark Trevelyan; Editing by John O’Brien)