The preliminary round of the women’s Olympic test event was completed today in the main handball arena for the Olympic Games. These test events generally do not matter much in terms of results, and the main thing is to check that everything in the arena, including the technical staff, seems to be functioning in a way that holds out promise for an impeccable show in the ‘real’ event nine months from now.
However, on this occasion, with the Olympics taking place in a country without handball traditions, there was a special interest in observing how competitive the team of the home country might be. In the build-up for the Olympics, the British team has made remarkable progress in recent years. While there is clearly no expectation that either one of the teams, women or men, will be in serious competition for the medals in August 2012, it is always important to feel that the home teams are capable of putting on respectable performances.
And the British women offered a pleasant surprise in the opening game two days ago. They played Angola, African champions in recent years and normally competitive also in World Championships. The Brits were not timid and took the lead in the early going. They managed to stay even throughout the game, but it looked ominous when they were behind by two goals 10 minutes from the end. But four straight goals, combined with a strong goalie performance, allowed Britain to win by 22-20.
Yesterday, Angola beat Austria by 35-33, so the British objective today was to avoid a worse result than a one-goal loss. However, the performance today was not equally inspired, so the more experienced Austrians could win comfortably by 31-23. This meant that Austria and Angola qualified for the semi-finals, while Great Britain will play for fifth place against Slovakia tomorrow. The other semifinalists are China and Poland, who played to a 30-30 tie against each other and both beat Slovakia.
While many among both media and spectators seemed to have a rather confused idea of handball at the start of this event, one can hope that both the good showing of the British team and the seemingly good performance of the event staff have now helped create some added interest in the Olympic handball tournaments. And it seems that the home crowd will not have to worry about embarrassing results.