Not quite under the same conditions

In handball there is no doubt who is the super power...

Following the recent PanAmerican Championships, John Ryan interviewed Coach Christian Latulippe. Christian commented on the unequal circumstances, when it comes to competing successfully with the PanAmerican super powers Argentina and Brazil. He noted that for the USA national teams it seems necessary to recruit athletes well into their 20s, simply because we do not have a pool of talented teenagers from which the senior teams could be built. By contrast, on both the men’s and the women’s side, Argentina and Brazil have massive youth programs. The young handball players grow up getting used to continuous training with the help of competent coaches and frequent league games.

This year again, USA is participating with a team in the renowned Partille Cup in Sweden, the largest and foremost international youth competition. Personally, I am very happy to see this tradition continued, because I happened to be among those who helped getting Partille Cup started more than 40 years ago. But of course I feel sad when I see that after all these years we have yet to reach a level where we can seriously compete with the rest of the world. While the USATH keeps insisting that we have a boy’s team participating, despite the fact that the accompanying photo seems to indicate that this is a girl’s team, the Partille Cup web site provides a bit of clarity. Our team, which is described as the USA National Team, is in the Girls under-16 group.

They finished the group play on Thursday, with a fourth consecutive loss. They have played club teams from Sweden, Denmark, Germany and Iceland. While all these clubs are of modest quality at the senior level, it is more difficult to assess how good their 16-olds are. In any event, the average result in the four games was roughly 7-16, but they lost just 6-8 in their opening game which was against the second-weakest team in the group. In the consolation bracket, which is in the ‘knock out’ format, they play a local team on Friday. It should be added that together with Scotland, Kenya, China, Zimbabwe, India Benin, and a few other countries, USA is participating in an ‘Olympic Development Program’, in collaboration between the Savehof (the organizer of Partille Cup) and the IHF. This entails coaching assistance, training sessions and support in connection with the matches.

Brazil is not just a world-class team at the senior level. In Partille Cup, they are this year participating with an astounding 23 club teams in many age groups. Not only do they have club handball at the youth level; they take every opportunity to develop their skills and gain experience. What do you think this tells us about the prospects for USA to catch up at the pace we are moving!? And then to rub it in: the World Championship for Women in the under-20 category started out this week. PanAmerica has three participants: Brazil, Argentina and Uruguay. Uruguay has had one win in four games and Argentina had a one-goal loss against Sweden. But Brazil has been just outstanding. Despite a higher ranking, they got a tough group: Norway, Croatia, Netherlands, and Romania, plus ‘up and coming’ Tunisia. It seemed they would have a tough fight to advance. But with one day of group play left on Friday, Brazil is the only team in the entire Championship that has already won their group after four straight victories!