Hand-to-Hand Combat

Every once in a while the Olympic Games give fans the chance to see an incredible team in total domination. Remember the 1992 US basketball dream team, with Michael Jordan and Magic Johnson? Or the 1980 US ice hockey team which managed, against all the odds, to upset the mighty Soviets?

This time round, in London, it’s the sport of handball which featured a dominant dream team. French men’s handball, to be precise.

‘Les Experts’, as they’re known back home, are arguably the greatest handball team of all time: gold medal at the Beijing Olympics in 2008; world champions in 2009 and 2011; European champions in 2010. No other handball team in history has triumphed in so many world-class tournaments.

Competing in the Make-designed Copper Box, in London’s Olympic Park, they were the favourites to take the gold medal again this time round.

  

But how does one explain the total world dominance of the French men? For the last 20 years their defensive play has been outstanding, a constant thorn in the side for teams that challenge them. With three strong players at the back, the team creates a wall that attackers struggle to breach. The final line of defence is goalkeeper Thierry Omeyer, considered the world’s best for his position.

Consistency has played its part in France’s success, too. Most sports have a regular turnover of coaches. Not French handball, however. This men’s team has known only two coaches in the past 25 years, something which has helped foster long-term strategy and player development.

Now that Les Experts have won gold once again in London, France will see thousands of skilled youngsters striving for a place in the national squad. There are now more than 400,000 players licensed to the French handball federation. That number’s sure to grow.

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