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Ron Judd's Olympics Insider

Ron Judd, an Olympics junkie and Seattle Times columnist who has covered Olympic sports since 1997, will use this space to serve up news and opinion on the Summer and Winter Games -- also inviting you to chime in on Planet Earth's biggest get-together.

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August 11, 2008 3:44 PM

Team handball mania: Ground-level opportunities available

Posted by Ron Judd

team handball.JPGPreparing to kiss the floor: France's Didier Dinart battles Brazil in team handball qualifying Sunday in Beijing. Photo: Abaca Press/McClatchy Newspapers.)

OK, now we're totally hooked on team handball. If you saw the play at the end of the nail-biting Hungary vs. Brazil women's match, you would be, too.

It wound up in a tie when, with one second on the clock, a Hungarian player whose name we cannot pronounce, let alone spell, appeared to be standing their chatting about, I don't know, the humidity, with her teammates during a stoppage in play when suddenly ... BOOM! ... she turns around and fires the tying shot right through two hapless, flat-footed defenders, who are doing the team-handball-defense equivalent of picking their noses.



The Brazilians stood there, agape, with that indignant, you-never-called-time-back-in-again! look of protest. To no avail.

You almost felt sorry for them, but ... that's team handball!

Two other big developments on the team handball front:

1) We're starting to figure out how it works. First thing to know: the name is a misnomer. It's really closest to lacrosse, played indoors, with a shrunken soccer ball and no sticks. You use your hands, play six on a side, and shoot at a miniature soccer-style goal.

You move the ball by running (while dribbling) or passing. There's lots of faking, flopping, air time, bounce-shooting and, most important, face-smashing (usually with the ball; clearly by accident). The game also has penalties and power plays, which, we believe creates all sorts of potential sponsorship opportunities involving Molson and Tim Horton's.

And then there's an added, look-at-this-poor-sap element: Playing goal in team handball is undoubtedly the worst job in Olympic sports. In today's broadcast, the one or two times the goalie for Brazil actually stopped a shot, she reacted as if she'd just won Powerball.

2) The U.S., as we mentioned, has no team handball team in Beijing. We're currently off the world team handball map. But we sense that's about to change. Our praise for the sport in a column in Sunday's Times drew notice of team handball players and executives in the U.S. As it turns out, the sport's governing body was decertified (AKA, no more money for you!) a couple years ago by the U.S. Olympic Committee, and it's trying to reconstitute, form new clubs, and qualify for the 2012 Games in London.

As it happens, U.S. Team Handball is looking for a club leader in the Seattle area. And, as a measure of how desperate, er, eager they are, they asked if I'd be interested.

Well, no. I'm flattered, but I want to watch the sport, to nurture and foster it, to revel in it, OK, to make fun of it, at least a little -- not run it. But, I'll happily pass on names of interested parties to the people in charge. It's my small part for all team handball kind.

It's addictive. We dare you to watch. (Try Universal HD in the daytime, if you're one of the 17 people who get that. Or, go online at and find it at your leisure, if you can possibly call staring at a computer monitor "leisure.")

Next step: Someone needs to come up with a more fitting name for the sport, to shed the unfortunate, but common, mental link to handball, a completely different -- and we'll just come out and say it, wholly inferior -- game.

Ideas? We're thinking perhaps "Major League Faceball."

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Posted by Jonathan

6:29 PM, Aug 11, 2008

It's fantastic to see another fan of team handball! My co-workers always tease me about it.

In western Washington, there are (to the best of my knowledge, which is a few years out of date) three former team handball Olympians and a handful of team handball Olympic trials participants.

I first saw the sport as an exchange student in Italy. When I came back home to the San Francisco Bay Area, I saw a team advertising for players. I played with that team for a couple of years, traveling all over the state for tournaments, including the Nationals, before moving up to Seattle. The Seattle Handball Club in the early 90s had a devoted group of players. At one point, we were large enough to form two full teams. We practiced weekly and played the occasional tournament, usually up in Canada.

In 1991, I was fortunate enough to make the West team for the US Olympic Festival, where we went undefeated and won the gold medal (I even got two seconds on ESPN!). We also had a friendly with the Croatian national team and I still have the small Croatian flag banner the players exchanged before the game.

It's sad for me to see the fracturing of team handball in the United States. I recognize some of the names of those involved from my playing days.

A couple of comments on your post. First, I like to describe team handball as waterpolo on a court where one runs and dribbles instead of swimming. That helps put a visual into people's minds.

Second, a team handball goalkeeper is the BEST job in Olympic sports! I've played soccer (and derivatives), lacrosse and team handball competitively as a goalkeeper and I can't think of a better position to play. Yes, I've been hit in the face, blinded save for seeing stars. Yes, I've been hit where no man should be hit. Yes, that ball can move up to 80mph and is more solid than a soccer ball. But we relish the bruises because each one is a goal denied. We have to be smarter than the offense and dictate, by our positioning, where we want them to shoot (doesn't mean we'll always block it!). So when you watch Olympic team handball and see the goalkeepers celebrate a save, it's not out of surprise, it's pure adrenaline!

Posted by Kevin

12:40 PM, Aug 12, 2008

I seriously need to find somewhere near Portland to learn how to play this game. I can't seem to find anything about clubs or anything about it. I played it once in phys ed in junior high school and loved it then. I since played competitively in other sports and watching the Olympics really got me interested in the sport again. I've played many sports in my 22 years of life and know I would be good at this one. I've been hit in the face from errant thrown baseballs so I'm sure I can take a handball. If anyone can help:

ransomnotez (at) gmail (dot) com

Posted by Ryan

12:57 AM, Aug 13, 2008

I too would love to play if there was a club or teams in the area.

If anyone is forming anything, or knows of a decent opportunity to play, I can be reached at

Posted by Twitch

4:01 AM, Aug 13, 2008

I turned to msnbc in hopes of watching olympic basketball, but this chaotic fast paced sport i've never seen before was even more fulfilling! i havn't been more interested in anything as i am with team handball since i was chasing girls in pre-school. i agree that goalie would be the worse position, so i'd be more than happy to put fear in goalies eyes! if any chance of play occurs i have giant friends who'd be interested in playing also.


Posted by TJ

2:05 AM, Aug 14, 2008

Hello everyone, a team is forming. I used to own/coach and play and have now relocated to the Seattle area. I have notified USA Team Handball. Right now the issue is finding a place to play.

Everyone who is interested in jumping on the bandwagon, please email me:


Posted by Positroll

2:04 AM, Aug 15, 2008

If you guys are serious about it, the exercises presented here should help:

Posted by Stephan

7:29 AM, Aug 15, 2008

If anyone in Portland is interested in playing...
play should resume around August 28th @ Aloha High School

Posted by bball1

10:25 AM, Aug 17, 2008

I have a son that I think would love to play. He plays professional indoor soccer now and has played baseball. He lives in California. Is the game played anywhere in the US?

Posted by Douglas

5:01 PM, Aug 17, 2008

it so nice this sport try to play here in USA, because is so popular in Erope, Asia, Latin America, and more but here no its really so popular. I have some friend to seattle and try to make a team for play, but its so hard to find one place to play because need pay for use the gym or another inconvinients for plese not desist to play this sport it so nice many people play now... thaks and go for fun !!! Douglas Peņa Lakewood WA.

Posted by Fernando

11:49 AM, Aug 18, 2008

Geez, I'm glad I'm not the only Handball fan in Seattle! I first watched this sport as a kid in the Olympics and have been crazy about it since.

I'd LOVE to play if a club opens in the area. There has to be capable players, current and former, in the area, especially among the Eastern European community... So... where's the sign up sheet?

Posted by Fernando

12:08 PM, Aug 18, 2008

As Jonathan said, the best name for the sport would be "Team Handball", as what is known in the US as "handball" is really "poor man's racquetball" : )

Instead of waiting for the powers that be to create a league, maybe we can start organizing a club from the grassroots, we can always affiliate later. I'd be totally committed to this if anyone is interested.

Posted by Evan

7:40 PM, Aug 18, 2008

I'm a college sophmore in L.A. and have been wanting to play for 4 years since the last olympics but never knew where to go. If anyone has any idea where a "rookie" so to speak could go in L.A. let me know/

Posted by Chris

9:08 PM, Aug 18, 2008

We are two interested players, please drop us a line if anything materializes:


Posted by Dan

3:15 AM, Aug 19, 2008

I am a Canadian playing in Switzerland right now, my club in Regina, Saskatchewan is having a tournament in January. If anyone plays on teams that may be interested in coming please check out the website We would also be interested in coming down to the staes again for a tournament, we played in Salt Lake City last year and were hoping to come down again this year.

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