An Aussie's intro to Handball at Sydney 2000
3 OL kampe, som omvendte en australsk knægt til håndboldfanReportage skrevet af Dougal Currie, 8. oktober 2000.
As a youngster, like all other Australian primary schoolkids, I played Handball every morning, noon and night. The game was played in every schoolyard, in every town. When I discovered that handball was an Olympic sport I liked my chances of cracking the Australian team and going for gold. And so did every other Aussie kid… Only… it was the wrong sport. Our handball was played on concrete squares with a tennis ball and involved hitting the ball with your hand so it bounced from your square into someone else's. This was very different from what we saw at the Olympics. I was crushed.
Time followed, and I did not think again about the Olympic form of handball until a few weeks ago when a mate of mine mentioned that he was going to see the Danish women play handball at the Games. He told me that these women had a beauty of mythic proportions, and quite frankly that was enough for me. So now you see that my original motivations did not have a great deal to do with prowess on the sporting field. But, after ignorance comes enlightenment, as we shall see.
The Olympics hit Sydney with a bang and apart from a desire to get drunk and meet Brazilian women, I wanted to see some sport. Fate would have it that I was able to secure tickets to 2 nights of handball, among other sports. My first night of handball came after experiencing the depths of boredom associated with watching rowing heats from the 1000m mark. We eagerly filed into the handball pavilion and were surprised to see the place packed. All 6,000 seats were full. This was even more impressive when you consider that Ian Thorpe was swimming at that exact time. Australian swimming stars are like Gods in this country and Ian Thorpe is the biggest God of them all. So it would be reasonable to expect that many of the Aussie handball ticket holders might blow-off their $19 and go and watch the swimming on TV instead. But no. These people, like us, had come to watch handball and they'd be damned if some gawky teenager with size 17 feet would get in their way. So it was with this attitude that we settled into our 6th row seats and strapped ourselves down for the action which was to follow. Cuba vs Russia.
CUBA vs RUSSIA, SEPTEMBER 18, 2000
It became quickly apparent that Cuba was the crowd favourite and we cheered ourselves hoarse as the likes of Gonzalez and Urios hurled themselves at the Russian defence. With the help of Mette's awesome website, I was soon able to understand the rules and it didn't take long before I was leaping up holding 2 fingers aloft whenever a Russian infringement occurred. A personal highlight was the goalkeeping of the charismatic Cuban, Miseal Iglasias, who leapt spectacularly into the air every time a ball came near him. Unfortunately, he hardly ever stopped it and most shots went sailing past him. But when he did make a save he made the most of it and would pump his fist at the crowd to rev us up. His style stood in stark contrast to the Russian goalkeeper. If Nike made a list of the most marketable sportsmen and women this Russian's name would not appear on it. He was fat, balding and had sweat stains covering his cheap tracksuit. But he stopped the ball every time. Another highpoint in the game was when a Russian was sent off for the rest of the game. He sat down on the bench but the referee didn't like that much so he told him to get off the court altogether. He obeyed, but only made it as far as the stands where he sat in the aisle and continued to yell instructions to his team! It was these kind of surprises that made me instantly fall in love with handball and I cheered on and on for the Cubans as they were systematically taken apart by the eventual gold medal winners.
SWEDEN vs SLOVENIA, SEPTEMBER 18, 2000
Enter the Scandinavians. If the Cuba/Russia game couldn't make the crowd any more excited then the Swedish fans did. Trust the Swedes. I had seen them before at the Australian open tennis when Stefan Edberg was playing, and it seemed as though they were just as loud and parochial for their handball team. But there's a great Australian tradition of supporting the underdog, and it seemed as though Slovenia fitted into that category. So with most of the Aussie crowd behind Slovenia the support was almost even. By now a handball expert, I was able to enjoy a fast-paced, close and exciting game where Slovenia held the advantage for most of the game but were eventually run down by the Swedes. It was quality handball, and for that matter quality sport. A great mix of skill and physicality. I wanted to get down there and start playing. I left the pavilion to the resounding chorus of Swedish supporters and hoped that the next day's games would bring as much joy.
ROMANIA vs KOREA, SEPTEMBER 19, 2000
If the last night was anything to go by then I'd be in for something special, so I arrived early and waited in eager anticipation for the action to begin. For my final night at the handball I had scored front row seats! I found myself in the Korean section of the crowd so it soon became obvious that I'd be supporting them. A few rows behind me were the Korean cheerleaders, all dressed in short skirts and knee-high boots (known locally as fuck-me boots) so it didn't matter if I looked to the front or behind, I'd be entertained! But it was the Korean girls in front of me that really put on a show. They seemed to have incredible teamwork and it became apparent that women's handball had just as much skill and excitement as the men's. The Korean girls ended up winning comfortably and were so impressive that I pencilled them in for a gold medal. Yet that was before I had seen the Danes.
DENMARK vs AUSTRIA, SEPTEMBER 19, 2000
Not to be outdone by the Swedes the night before, the red and white army arrived and all empty seats were filled. And with them they brought beer. I counted one Danish supported carrying 18 beers into the stands (on 3 separate trips). Australia is a country which prides itself on drinking, so these were some statistics which we could appreciate. Finally, the two teams arrived and I instantly fell in love with the entire Danish team (if this is possible). Unfortunately for the Austrians, all the other Australian supporters seemed to have fallen for the Danes as well, so the Danish girls had over 90% crowd support. The great Australian tradition of supporting the underdog had been thrown out the window. The match was yet another exhibition of quality Olympic sport, and through my expert eyes I saw 2 closely matched sporting teams. 14 fit young girls, just giving it a red-hot go. The difference however was the Danish goalkeeper. I thought that Denmark would never find a goalkeeper better than Peter Schmeichel but they seem to have found one in Lene Rantala. She saved four 7m penalties, some of which came from the world's no. 1 player. Out of all the matches that I saw at the Olympics she was by far and away the best goalkeeper. But my favourite player was the captain Tonje Kjærgaard, who didn't seem to mind the rough stuff in the centre of the court. Even after being eye-gouged she still came back, hungry for more action. Denmark came through victorious and I went home that night a satisfied man.
So there you have it, an initiation of an Australian handball ignoramus in all its gory detail. And to top it all off, Denmark won the gold. I hope they're still celebrating. If you're lucky enough to be in Athens in 4 years time, go and watch the handball, it's one helluva ride.
Dougal CurrieIndsendt d. 8. oktober 2000
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