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Date: 8/5/2016

With the Rio 2016 Olympic Games Opening Ceremony taking place later tonight and the men's and women's handball competition starting tomorrow (Saturday 6 August), IHF.info looks back four years to the last summer Olympic Games, in London, and speaks to those involved with Great Britain Handball.

Back in August 2012, London hosted the Olympic Summer Games and in the originally named ‘Handball Arena’, which was changed to ‘The Copper Box’ just before the games started, handball made a large impact in a country where it had largely gone under the radar.

Quickly becoming a games sensation with sold-out games throughout the two weeks of 28 July – 9 August, handball moved from the Copper Box after one quarter-final to the Basketball Arena to even bigger sold-out crowds as France won the gold medal for men and Norway for women in a competition where a British male and female team competed for the first-ever time.

IHF.info caught up with some of those involved with handball at London 2012 and asked what their personal legacy was.

IHF.info: What was your role with handball at London 2012?

Britt Goodwin (BG): I was an athlete; I played left wing for Great Britain.

Alex Gavrilovic (AG): I was the Competition Manager for handball. Every sport has an individual Competition Manager, whose role is to ensure that all aspects related to their event are appropriate and in accord with all technical requirements. 

I was involved in literally everything; from venue design to knowing how many towels we needed for the players. Along with all the other sports we became the ‘source of knowledge’ for the whole organisation and therefore it was a challenging and rewarding role to have.

I was lucky to have the opportunity to do this role at both the Sydney 2000 and London 2012 Olympic Games. I’m the only person to have been the Olympic Competition Manager for handball twice.

Bobby White (BW): I was goalkeeper and captain for Great Britain.

Lynn McCafferty (LMc): I was the captain of the Great Britain women’s team.

Dragan Djukic (DD): British men’s team coach. Handball is my passion, my hobby, my life. To be offered the opportunity to help a big sporting nation like GB to develop handball was more than a job opportunity, it was a dream.

Daniela Coelho (DC): I was Handball Training Site Group Leader.

Vigdis Holmeset (VH): I was the GB Women Assistant Coach. I did all the preparation before games including video analysis, talking with the head coach and players as well as in games.

Mark Hawkins (MH): I played left wing for the Great Britain men’s handball team.

IHF.info: What was your best memory of handball at London 2012?

BG: Walking out onto the court in our opening game and then scoring my first goal in the Copper Box.

AG: The great spectator support that we enjoyed at the event. Every session was full of excited and happy fans, creating a great atmosphere. My fondest memories are of the fantastic team that worked with me to deliver the Games – volunteers and staff; they were absolutely brilliant.

BW: It has to be our first half performance against Iceland. We played some fantastic handball as a team, I also had a good performance and for a time, we showed that we could compete with the best players in the world. 

LMc: Walking out on to the court for the first game and instantly seeing my family and friends in the crowd.

DD: It is really impossible to explain in a few sentences; I plan to write a book about it. Everything was a best memory from our first meeting, to practise, to suffering our first defeat and our troubles until we had our first taste of victory.

This taste gave us the enthusiasm together that we could be one of the biggest surprises in the world of sport. But then running out of budget before our final preparation we all made a decision to stay together until the end no matter what happened – it really was a wonderful sports story. It deserves to be told in a proper manner.

We were left on our own but it made us even closer and we realised that everything we did was not only for ourselves but for the future of the sport in Britain.

We all made sacrifices, I took the team to my home country, Serbia, and we trained in the Serbian mountains and played friendly matches against some of the world’s best teams.

When we received our London 2012 uniform we released we had came to the end of that tough road.

DC: Both finals. The last 30 seconds of the women’s final and the national anthem of Franc – they were very emotional and provided amazing memories.

VH: When the players walked onto court in the Copper Box and the presentation in front of a crowd of 1,000s of spectators. That first game for the home nation was fantastic.

MH: There are many great memories; walking out for the first match was one of the highlights and probably the team’s performance against Iceland - in particular the first half performance.
IHF.info: What was your worst memory of handball at London 2012?

BG: Not beating Angola in the Preliminary Round.

AG: The worst thing that happened was that neither British team won a game. Over the years leading up to the Games I got to know members of both the men’s and women’s team quite well, so it was disappointing not to see them win at least once, they deserved it, given the sacrifice and hard work they put into their Games journey.

BW: Knowing that it was the end of the Great British team at the time. We have played a few games since but the funding situation meant the majority of the squad couldn't continue on a self-funded programme after already investing significantly in the build up to London 2012.

LMc: Playing the second game against Russia and the feeling that nothing was going to plan.

DC: I don’t have any bad memories, only hard times - the lack of sleep mainly. We had 15-16 hours of operations for more than two weeks without a day off.

VH: When we were sitting in the changing room after last game was played, and we were unsure about the future for the team.

MH: There are really only positive memories. The one thing that remains is since London 2012, funding was removed from handball in GB so we haven't been able to continue on the work we had been doing up until London.

IHF.info: After London 2012 what have you done in relation to handball?

AG: I returned to Australia where I was again elected to be the President of the Australian Handball Federation. I’m continuing my efforts to develop the sport in Australia and to create the best possible environment for our representative teams to succeed.

BW: I started working with the England Handball Association. I am now managing the advanced apprenticeship in sporting excellence qualification and also delivering coach education and teacher training courses. 

I have also set up my own handball club in Aylesbury, which has a senior men’s side along with two U18 boy’s teams and a county representative team. This next season we are starting a girl’s programme.

LMc: Since 2012 I have continued to be involved with my club, coaching most age groups and still playing a little. I spent time going round local schools to deliver handball and try to keep handball going from the high of the Olympics.

DD: My personal mission is to spread the handball flame throughout the world and apart from coaching around the world since, I have set up www.handball4all.org.  In our academy we gather the best young players and coaches from around the world in Serbia and we all learn together, people from all over the world.

DC: I have been the Handball Manager at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games since May 2013, and also was Competition Manager in Uberlandia, Brazil at the 2015 IHF Men´s Junior World Championship.

VH: I have been working in handball full time, but back home in Norway. Coaching the Norway U18 team for women and at WANG Toppidretts gymnasium featuring the best young players around Oslo aged 16-19 years old.

MH: I have continued playing, but now work within talent development for the England Handball Association and am coaching the England U18 male team.

I’m working more on the coaching side, completing my Master Coach qualifications and hoping to work with many more young players in my country. 

IHF.info: What do you think has been the most important thing that London 2012 did for handball in Great Britain?

BG: It showed the nation what a fantastic game handball is and inspired kids of all ages to take it up and start playing.

AG: The London 2012 Olympic Games certainly helped to grow awareness about the sport within the UK. The British Handball Association and the English and Scottish Handball Associations worked hard to be ready for the Games and I think that they succeeded in establishing an environment for the sport to take advantage of the Games boost. 

I’ve noted in recent years that handball competitions and the representative teams in GB are growing and improving their standard.

BW: London 2012 really put handball on the map in Great Britain. Schools up and down the county have bought into the game and are training their teachers to deliver it and even such now that it is on the new GCSE curriculum (what the UK government asks schools to teach from).

Having it in the public consciousness for those few weeks has been priceless.

DC: Britain really got to know what handball is and the atmosphere from both handball venues was amazing with people really enjoying the sport.

LMc: London 2012 was an opportunity to expose handball on a huge scale in Great Britain which we could never have done without it. The exposure enabled more interest, more attention, greater numbers playing and some help with funding. 

DD: The London Olympics were generally a very special evening in the world of sport but, in particular reference to handball it was a perfect opportunity to present our sport in the right way to the British.

I remember how handball was accepted by everyone and sparked interest among the British public.

The Copper Box was a temple of handball and will remain forever. It was the place where handball stepped out from the shadows onto the main stage.

VH: I think the most important was that we showed Great Britain what a great game handball is and hopefully also a sport both girls and boys can become interested in; the power and speed is perfect for the mindset of those in Britain.

MH: It gave the sport exposure to people who didn't know it previously, I always used to be asked what handball was - now people know from what they saw at the Olympics. With this exposure it has started the growth in schools and the grassroots of the game which will be the underpinning factor to any work we want to do with future national teams.

IHF.info: What is your job / role now?

BG: I’m a nurse, but I’m also Mummy to two baby boys.

AG: My work for the Australian Handball Federation is voluntary so I also have a full-time role in the NSW Ministry of Health’s Legal and Regulatory Services Branch, a job that I had prior to moving to London for the Games. It’s been great to reconnect with a job that I really enjoy after a three-year absence but I have no regrets about being involved in the Olympic experience a second time.

BW: AASE Manager - England Handball Association.

LMc: I am currently involved in health and fitness for special health genres but moving toward youth fitness and conditioning. I am still hoping for a job in handball but only when the time is right.

DC: I am Rio 2016 Handball Manager.

VH: As I said earlier. (Editor's Note: Vigdis led the Norwegian women's youth team (U18) to fourth place at the 2016 IHF Women's Youth World Championship in Slovakia).

MH: England U18 men’s national team coach and working in talent development.

IHF.info: Who is your tip for Rio 2016 handball gold?

BG: Norway (women) and France (men).

AG: Any number of teams can win gold but it’s hard to look past France (men) and Norway (women) winning their third consecutive Gold medals at the Olympic Games.

BW: For the women, Brazil on home soil and France for the men.

LMc: For women, Norway are still so dominant and have so much experience at these competitions but I think it is hard to look past them, but the experience the Netherlands had at the recent world championships in Denmark will give them a lot of confidence.

For the men I would say France maybe, which is safe, but it would be nice to see another team win.

DC: We will have two amazing tournaments - the handball level is fantastic and the best players will be performing at the Future Arena. 

I think the women’s handball competition will be tightest with more than eight teams fighting for a medal; and in the men’s tournament they will also have great matches. 

The Europeans have more tradition but Brazil in the women’s and Qatar in the men’s tournaments are some of the teams who are eager to break this dominance.

VH: Norway, Brazil or Romania in the women’s competition and France, Croatia or Denmark in the men’s, but Norway and France if I had to say.

MH: In the men's it is hard to look past France, I think Croatia will also be strong and maybe Slovenia are a dark horse. In the women's competition I think Norway will always be amongst the favourites, also Brazil could be dangerous playing at home.

Other GB players at London 2012:

John Pearce and Chris McDermott now work at the England Handball Association.

Louise Jukes played for SK Aarhus in Denmark for year before retiring from playing handball and returning to Great Britain. On her return she worked for the England Handball Association for two years, firstly on development and then on the commercial side. In 2015 she moved to Liverpool Football Club where she now works in their sponsorship team, managing international events for the clubs' partners.

Holly Lam-Moores is now a coach and mentor for club teams and charities.

Ciaran Williams coaches U12, U14 and U16 boys at Asker Handball Club in Norway, alongside a day job working for a Norwegian logistics company.

Kathryn Fudge plays club handball for LC Bruhl in Switzerland.

Frazer Snowdon, from Snowdon Sports, was employed by the Great Britain Handball Association to manage their media commitments in the journey up to the Games in July 2012, he remembers the focus on the team during those times.

“I remember media training being offered to all players,” said Snowdon about the GB players who had previously no experience with the press. “We had to manage which athletes were put forward as spokespeople and for some of the team English wasn't their first language and had little experience of the background to the GB Handball story.

“All the athletes felt British and knew the story of building the team almost from scratch,” he continued, “but because of the language difficulties they may have seemed as though they didn't so we tried to limit media exposure for some players as we wanted to emphasise the ‘Britishness’ of the team. 

“This was because some media were keen to criticise and wanted to portray the team as a bunch of exiles, and just 'passport' Brits.

“The worst article was in the Daily Mail, they wrote an article saying the team were all 'passport Brits' and a bunch of foreigners looking for an easy ticket to the Olympics. 

“They used a photo to illustrate a story which they had lifted (without permission) of Lynn McCafferty, Kelsi Fairbrother, and Holly Lam-Moores - who are from Glasgow, Liverpool and Warrington respectively - born and bred British athletes. 

“However, there were lots of positive features including Channel 5 News and Sky News,” he explained. “They all came out to Aarhus with me where GB Handball were holding their training camps.

“They spent a few days out there at the base and really got to know the athletes and the project we had all undertaken - their pieces were sympathetic while being honest.”

Others stories of British Handball at London 2012

Brian Bartlett and Allan Stokes were nominated as the home couple of referees for the Olympics and are continuing to progress with their whistling, featuring at the 2015 IHF Men’s Youth Championship in Russia.

Susan Whitehead, who was Handball Services Manager at London 2012, is now Director of Development on the board of the England Handball Association.

Paul Goodwin, Chief Executive of British Handball during the London 2012 Games now owns a small business helping businesses improve their online branding and communications.

Jesper Holmris, Head Coach of the GB women’s team at London 2012 is now coaching with the Swiss national team and recently returned to Rio, where his team played two test games at the Future Arena – “it was nice to get a little bit of that Olympic feeling again,” he told IHF.info.

Paul Bray, who commented on handball for the Olympic Broadcasting Services (OBS) in London, is now Chair of the British Handball Association. He will take up the mic against for Rio 2016.

Ian Mollard, who was the voice of the ‘Box That Rocks’ on the PA, will also be working on handball at Rio 2016.

The handball training hall in Mayesbrook Park (Sporthouse) was the annual host for the England Handball Association Cup Finals which have now moved to the Copper Box.

The Copper Box has now been transformed into a public sports venue slightly adapted after the games – and which hosted the ‘wrap party’ for all staff after the conclusion of the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games.

Photos: England Handball