No I’m not talking about synchronised swimming. Nor am I wishing to discuss equestrian.
I’m instead focusing on a sport Australians see on the telly once an Olympiad and go, ‘geez, I quite like the look of that’ and promptly forget about it for another four years.
I’m talking about handball at the Olympics.
I remember seeing handball for the first time. I sat up a little higher in my seat, completely taken in by this high-scoring, high-contact fast team sport. Where had handball been all my life?
So it was little wonder that handball was at the top of my Olympic wish list, along with the otherwise quite boring favourites such as the swimming, cycling and athletics. We got our hands on handball tickets quite early, and I was excited.
And for good reason. The handball centre was filled with people just like me – those who had glimpsed the handball four, eight or twelve years ago in a ten minute snippet whilst TV programmers switched from the swimming to the gymnastics. We’d had a sniff, liked what we’d sniffed and come back for more. The stadium was chockers.
For the uninitiated, handball is essentially like football, except that it’s mainly held indoors, is a contact sport, is faster and athletes throw the ball instead of kick it around. So, perhaps it isn’t like football at all.
In a strange way, it often reminds me of rugby. It has absolutely nothing to do with it, but the blocks and plays resemble it to me. It figures, though – the great majority of team sports were invented at around the same time, in around the same area, and all borrow from each other.
Unlike rugby though, handball’s popularity has remained almost solely in northern and central Europe. Denmark, France and Sweden have traditionally dominated, with the Germans credited with creating the sport in the first place.
The first match pitted the Croatians against the Hungarians, a high-quality match that would be repeated ten days later as the bronze medal playoff, whuch Croatia won. The Hungarians were going mental, they knew their stuff. The rest of us, less so, but we cheered anyway.
The second match, though of lower quality, however almost lifted the proverbial roof off. Here we witnessed Argentina absolutely destroy Team GB, not that you’d know it from listening to the crowd. The British team, I read in my program, consisted of a few dual nationals (with Scandinavian countries) with the remainder those who’d played a match once at high school, by the look of it. They didn’t seem to care though, they were just ecstatic to be out there, officially as Olympians. Does it cheapen the title? Perhaps. Do I particularly care? Not at all.
I had high expectations of the handball and they were not dashed, not even in the slightest. It was here when I think I really began to appreciate the British as true sports lovers – here was a sport that would have gained perhaps one or two newspaper articles in the previous century in the country, yet they turned up in their droves. Well done, London. That, more than fancy venues, slick marketing and a snazzy Opening Ceremony, gained you my upmost respect.