You may not have known it, but handball is a pretty big deal in Olympics world. It’s a sport that traces its roots back to (at least) Roman times so, if for that reason alone, read up.
Part basketball, part soccer, with a dash of lacrosse and ultimate frisbee thrown in, handball is a fast-paced team sport that takes place on a hard court slightly larger than a basketball court with a goal at either end and a goal crease that measures six meters (a little over 19 feet) in diameter. The objective for each of the seven-person teams (six field players and a goalie) is to throw a leather ball that resembles a small soccer ball into the opposing net.
Players may not enter the opposing team’s goal crease, so shots must be taken from a distance, either in the air or by bounce. (Players may jump into the crease, but they must take off from outside the crease). Players also only have three steps before either passing or shooting, and are allowed one dribble.
Handball’s version of soccer’s penalty kick, the 7-meter throw occurs after a foul around the goal area. The shooter must keep one foot on the ground and has three seconds to shoot toward goal while the goalie can roam anywhere in his or her goal area, initiating one intensely awkward goal line stand.
After Nazi Germany won the inaugural team handball tournament in 1936, the sport wasn’t played again until 1972 (women’s competition was added in 1976). France has dominated the field over the last decade and is considered to be the best team in the history of the sport, winning the 2008 and 2012 Olympic gold medals as well as the 2015 World Championships ahead of the 2016 Rio Games.
Keep your eyes out for hometown hero Eduarda “Duda” Amorim, the 2015 IHF Women’s World Player of the Year, and leader of the 2013 World Championship Brazilian team. Towering over her opponents, the 6-foot-one-inch left back punches her way through defenses and could be the key to a home country gold medal, the first ever for the Brasileiras.
After taking silver at the 2008 Beijing Games, the Icelandic men’s handball team commemorated their achievement by casting their privates in silver, a display that now sits in Reykjavik’s Iceland Phallogical Museum. Unfortunately, there will be no 2016 reprise, as Iceland was unable to qualify for Rio. Bummer.