Nostalgia time, people… remember the days in gym class where you had those thin gym mats you could use for shared yoga on either side of the gym, and a teacher gave you a ball and told you to throw towards a kid standing in front of the mat?
The game was handball.
Now, I have another question… have you ever watched it on TV?
If you haven’t watched the Olympics, then you probably haven’t. While team handball is only popular in gym class lore in the United States, it is one of the biggest things going in Europe. Don’t believe me? Look up “European Handball” on YouTube.
Team handball mixes three of our shared favorite sports… hockey, soccer, and basketball. The rules for organized handball are a bit complicated, so I will give you the basics:
Olympic-style Handball is played with 6 active players and a goalkeeper. The object is to throw something similar to a volley ball into a net. The team that does this the most within two 30 minute halves wins. In Olympic Handball, the surface is the same as your standard basketball court, maybe a little smaller in some parts of the world.
When a player has the ball they must be very careful what they do with it, because they are only allowed to move three steps before they are required to pass. They don’t have to use all three, but they only have three seconds with the ball at all times. This allows for the game to be fast paced and it also keeps the scoring high. And as in basketball there is defense, and they do call fouls and hockey-style penalties. If you commit a foul, it might land you off the floor for two minutes. Get three, and you are gone for the rest of the game.
To score, you must throw the ball into the net. Sounds simple, yes? Try again. With every goal there is a safety zone for the goalie, just like in hockey, where the goalie is the only one allowed in it. Any goal must come from beyond this zone. The only issue is the goal zone is a wide rectangle covering side to side, and not that small arc hockey goalies get. Plus, the goalie is not subject to the three second-three step rule. Despite all this, goalies give up an average of 20 or so a goal per game, primarily due to the game’s fast pace.
Like yours truly, the only time people have probably played handball is in gym class in high school. There are a few gym teachers who have even tested us on the rules of the sport in an effort to put something in their grade books. But, as stated before, Europe is in love with it. Olympic Handball was first utilized in 1936, with Germany taking gold, and then became a normal part of the Olympic program in 1972. In that time it is staggering the amount of European teams at the medal podium. In the eleven times handball has been contested, 32 out of a possible 33 medals have been won by European teams, with South Korea being the only exception in Seoul in 1988. The United States team has not qualified for the Olympics since the Atlanta Games in 1996.
The same goes for their version of the World Championships. Those contests are held every other year, and in 23 competitions, the medals went to Europe in every single instance.
Look for Europe to continue their domination of the sport. Out of the 12 that qualify to play in two six-team round robin pools, nine are European, and the three that are not were drawn from the lower seeded pots. In 2012, Denmark won the European Championship, and are one of the most successful teams Europe has, although they have never won the gold in the Olympics. Despite this, I am a big believer in the concept of good things happening to the patient, and after looking at the big picture I say this is Denmark’s year.
Now, if you want to know more, I leave you these links:
If you want to know more about the rules, go to: http://olympics.about.com/lw/Sports-Recreation/Amateur-sports/Olympic-Handball-Rules-and-Judging.htm
For information on the competition at the London Olympics, go to: http://www.london2012.com/handball/
And I will even leave a link to everything you want to know about Handball competitions in Europe: http://www.eurohandball.com/
Handball is a great game if you know at least a few of the rules, and once you do you should enjoy watching it. It may be relatively unknown to Americans, but I remind you one more time to remember gym class. Enjoy!