Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network)-
Team handball began in Europe in the early 1900's and first became an Olympic sport in the 1936 Berlin Games. Back then, handball was an outdoor sport and thus it only appeared once. It resurfaced as an indoor sport in 1972 in Munich, Germany, while the women made their debut in the 1976 Olympics.
The game is quite simple and blends in elements of basketball and soccer. There are seven players on a team, including one goaltender. The offensive players run and/or dribble with the ball and try and score a goal. The official size of the goal is two meters high and three meters wide. There is a six-meter line in front of the goal area, which only the goalie is allowed to be in. Players must shoot the ball outside of this area. There is a nine-meter line, likened to the NBA free throw line, for minor penalties. The seven-meter line is used for penalty shots, much like soccer penalty kicks. Scoring of games can be in the 20-30 range.
The Olympic tournament will consist of 12 teams for the men and 10 for the women. The men will be broken up into two groups of six, while the women will be two groups of five. The top four teams advance to the quarterfinal round, with the winners moving to the semifinals. The final match will determine the gold and silver medal winners, while a playoff game will award the bronze medal.
The 12 teams that will make up the men's tournament are: Defending gold medalist Russia, bronze medalist Spain, 2001 World Champion France, Croatia, Iceland, Slovenia, Korea, 2004 European Champion Germany, Hungary, Greece (host), Egypt and Brazil.
The 10 teams that will make up the women's tournament are: Two-time defending gold medalists Denmark, silver medalists Hungary, France, Korea, Ukraine, Spain, Germany, China, Angola and Brazil.
For the second straight Olympic Games, there will be no American presence in Team handball. The men's team failed to qualify for the games when they finished third in the 2003 Pan American Games. Their best showing in the games were a pair of ninth-place finishes in 1984 and 1996. As for the women, they missed qualifying for the games when they finished third at the Pan Am Games. Their best finish at the Olympics was fourth-place in 1984.
Canada also didn't qualify for these Olympics.
Simply put, the Russians have been explosive in men's team handball. They have won the most gold medals (4) and total medals (5) in Olympic competition. They won seven of their eight matches in the 2000 Sydney Games, including a 28-26 victory over Sweden in the gold medal match. Alexander Tuchkin was the star of the game with seven goals and will be someone to keep an eye on. However, in the 2004 European Championships, Russia finished a disappointing fifth, beating France, 28-26. Tuchkin was held in check with just one goal.
|The Russians have dominated men's team handball and have won the most gold medals in Olympic competition.|
Three-time defending Olympic silver medalist Sweden will be a no-show in Athens. The Swedes finished seventh at the European Championships. Spain, the two-time defending bronze medalists, will be on hand.
The women's competition will have its eyes set on Denmark, the two-time defending gold medal winners. They also won the 2003 European World Championship. In the 2000 Olympics, they rallied from a six-goal deficit to beat Hungary, 31-27, for the gold medal. Anette Hoffmann-Moberg scored 11 goals and teammate Camilla Anderson added seven for the victors.
This will be the fifth Olympic Games for women's team handball. Russia leads the medal count with four - two gold and two bronze.
By Kevin Spiegel, Olympic Contributing Editor