Overwhelmed teams from Cook Islands and Australia remain enthusiastic

When I wrote about the Youth Olympic Games (YOG) a few days ago, I mentioned the heavy losses that the girls from Australia and the boys from Cook Islands incurred in their first games. I also contrasted the IHF approach, with the top teams from all the other continents participating, while FIFA in football went for the real ‘grassroots’ in each continent. (In football, the girls from Equatorial Guinea won silver after losing the final after a penalty shoot-out, and Haiti will play in the final for the boys).

The team from Cook Islands apparently was not invited from the outset. There are media reports that New Zealand was the intended representative for Oceania, but that this was not supported by that country’s Olympic Committee. It is rumored that they still do not consider the controversy with two competing national federations fully settled, even after the IHF took sides. Anyway, Cook Islands got the opportunity and had to scramble to find the necessary resources. Their participation had an enthusiastic backing from their entire population and the following newspaper reports tell us a charming story about the fund raising. http://www.ciherald.co.ck/articles/h522o.htm http://www.ciherald.co.ck/articles/h524k.htm

Cook Islands has been a member of the IHF since 1999, and they have an Olympic Committee. http://www.sportingpulse.com/assoc_page.cgi?assoc=3844&pID=2 But their plans were to send just two swimmers and two sailors to the YOG, so they were not prepared for the expenses of adding 14 handball players. In handball, Cook Islands participated this year in the qualifying for the World Championship in Sweden, but they lost to Australia (13-41 and 7-46) and New Zealand (21-36 and 12-31). The only time handball players from Cook Islands had previously ventured outside Oceania was for a participation in Partille Cup in 2007. There they became everyone’s favorites with their friendly and cheerful attitude, including dance exhibitions and a band of drummers. Their team in ‘Boys 18’ lost narrowly to Brazilian opponents in the B playoffs. The results were respectable also for their ‘Girls 16’, who were eliminated by Glostrup (DEN).

In the YOG the boys had the tough task of facing France and Korea in group play, and these opponents did not seem to hold back. The results were 4-58 against France http://www.straitstimes.com/BreakingNews/Sport/Story/STIStory_569090.html and 4-70 against Korea. But in the double matches for 5th place against the home team Singapore, they showed they had not lost their spirit. The results were much more respectable: 20-27 and 18-32. Clearly one also needs to take into account that playing 4 full matches in 5 days is quite demanding for an inexperienced team. The best goal scorer was Tapi Mataora and Peter Kermode. We wish our friends from Cook Islands continued progress and enjoyment in their handball endeavors. For more information about Cook Islands, see: http://www.ck/ http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cook_Islands

Australia has a somewhat longer tradition and greater experience in handball, having represented Oceania at numerous World Championships in different categories. They do not expect to win medals, but their enthusiastic style of play has gained them friends everywhere. My own most recent experience with an Australian team was in the Men’s World Championship in Germany in 2007. They were outmatched in the group play, but the handball fans in Magdeburg, who recognize a spirited effort when they see one, really made the Australians into their favorite team and gave them loud support in every match. When one day the positive attitude is matched by more international match experience, then the Australians may become a force to be reckoned with.

But the girls participating in the YOG were clearly lacking in experience. As you will hear in the following YouTube clip, they had hardly practiced together before as a team.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MykHBsieG2k But again, they relished the opportunity to participate, and they are not likely to have had their fighting spirit diminished by the results. They lost in group play with 4-41 against Denmark and 16-45 against Kazakhstan. In the double matches against Angola, the top African country in women’s handball, they were beaten 12-37 and 12-39. One would hope that this young team will have the chance to develop together and improve gradually. The best scorer on the team was Victoria Fletcher.