London Spy

Olympic sport guide: Handball

London Spy

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Great Britain's handball team


Never a major sport in Great Britain, handball was such a minority event when London won the right to stage the Games that the country didn't even have a dedicated court for the sport.

The rules are simple and the sport is fast. Seven players per side — one of whom is the goalkeeper — compete in an area measuring 40 by 20 meters, which is the largest for any indoor ball game at the Olympics. The challenge is to pass or dribble a ball measuring just under two feet in diameter and throw it into the opposition's goal — a structure two metres high and three metres wide.

Players can take up to three steps with the ball after which you must pass or bounce it and once you stop moving you have three seconds to pass or shoot. If you jump before shooting you must let go of the ball before you land.

Matches are played over 30 minutes each way, and scores of 20 or 30 points or more per team are routine.

In Beijing, France beat Iceland 28-23 in the final and Spain beat Croatia 35-29 in the bronze medal play-off.

That victory by France was the first by a nation outside eastern Europe since Germany won gold as hosts in Berlin, although the sport was dropped after 1936 and did not return to the schedule until 1972.

Yugoslavia won gold twice in the men's event before the break-up of the country and Croatia have won twice since.

Women's handball brought successive victories for the Soviet Union after its introduction in 1976 and for South Korea in 1988 and 1992. But Scandinavian nations have dominated since, with three successive gold medals for Denmark before Norway intervened to take gold in 2008.

1 Denmark
2 France
3 Croatia
4 Spain
5 Serbia
6 Iceland
7 Sweden
8 Hungary
1 Norway
2 France
3 Spain
4 Russia
5 Denmark
6 Brazil
7 Sweden
8 Korea

Both the men’s and women’s events begin with a preliminary phase, where the 12 teams in each event are divided into two groups of six and each team plays every other team in its group. The four best teams in each group qualify for the knockout phase.


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