France repeats as World Champs. Denmark wins silver, Spain bronze.

The 22nd edition of the Handball World Championships concluded on Sunday in Malmö with the French emerging as victors. Karabatic & Co defeated Denmark 37:35 in extra time, in one of the closest contests in recent memory.  France’s fourth world title ties them with  Sweden and Romania who each have four as well.

In his latest podcast, Bogdan Pasat is joined again by former Romanian International Cristian Zaharia to discuss and break down the final contests, France’s dynasty and what the rest of the handball world must do in order to dethrone the mighty French. Tune in for another 45 minutes of expert analysis available to you,  only on THN.


Men’s World Championship – Main round review, semis preview.

With the Sweden 2011 main round completed and the Semis just hours away, THN’s Bogdan Pasat talks to former Romanian International and 1993  World Championship bronze medalist Cristian Zaharia about the ongoing men’s World  Championship competition, the Pan Am representation, the upcoming semis and the psychology of winning at the highest level.

Don’t miss it as there is something for everyone in this 55 minutes long interview.

Les Blues X 3!

Who dat gonna beat dem Blues?
Live from Vienna’s’s Wiener Stadthalle, where France spanked Croatia for the second time in a championship title game in less than a year, I will share some quick thoughts on this , the 2010 Austrian Euro.
As if there was any doubt about the outcome of the 2010 Euro, France did have to go through the formalities of actually playing its games. Watching the final four matches live was quite impressive; however, nothing beats the slo-mo TV replays – where you actually get an appreciation for what these phenomenal athletes can do.
Wire to wire, France was again the most complete team, dominating its opponents when it had to. France’s edge was a psychological one as their collective experience and mental toughness was unmatched by its opponents. This tournament had so much parity, where the difference between winning and losing often came down to single possessions and split second decisions. France, along with Poland, Iceland, Spain, Croatia and Denmark made the most of those opportunities.
– I liked the dynamic (elastic) defenses. Lots of fun to watch but a nightmare to officiate.
– Goalkeeping has been tremendous. Great performances throughout, with Slawomir Szmal impressing everyone. What an electric second half he had for Poland, in the bronze medal match.
– Officiating was consistent. Mistakes were made both ways but cannot think of any major call that influenced the outcome of a game.
– Circle defending was ridiculous. Players on both sides of the ball could do just about anything they wanted inside. Stepping, cutting, running, rolling inside the 6 was the norm, rather than the exception.
– Norway, Austria, Slovenia and Russia were a handful of possessions away from some upsets.
– Germany was never in it.
John and Christer will most likely follow up with some more in depth analysis of this great tournament. For me, traveling to Austria was exciting but I cannot wait to return Stateside.
Until then, good night from Wien!

And the host city for the 2016 Olympics is…

We'll know soon enough. Less than 24 hours to go.

The US is, of course, divided.
Chicago, the US' choice, is also divided.
Those pesky "betting odds" are too close to call.
There are sentimental favorites, infrastructure favorites, time zone favorites, rightful favorites, TV broadcast favorites and so on.
Experts too, are divided.

Presidents, world leaders and sports figures are campaigning for their respective cities and countries.
It's not their money! Naturally there is no regard for fiscal responsibility.
So what if the bid process alone cost Chicagoans $48 millions? (think about it folks!!!)
So what if the DOW dropped another 205 points today, while Bank of America CEO Ken Lewis will retire at year's end to the tune of $53 millions in pension benefits?
What the US (or Brasil, Japan and Spain) needs is the 2016 Olympics!

For the same reason Americans everywhere spent more than they could afford,
Because, to a large extent, they played with other people's money.
And when things went sour, the American consumer's contribution to the US economy was a resounding sucking sound.
Of empty wallets. And of shattered dreams. Crooks notwhistanding!!!
At this point and time, hosting the Olympics is one big fat financial crisis waiting to happen.

I am not gonna lie.
I do want Chicago to win.
The city is more than a sentimental favorite for me.
Also, because I am a homer and, through my "rose-team-handball" galsses, it would benefit [b]my[/b] sport immensely.

Sure, there was 1984 and 1996 and team handball was DOA shortly thereafter.
But this will be 2016, damn it!
New crooks.
Different victims.
But who cares?

You see, as a businessman, when it comes to my wallet (and yours as well), I pray that Chicago loses.
Let Tokyo have it. Or, better yet, my original pick – Rio.
Let the Brazilians incur the hight cost of overrun projects and budget downfalls.
So what if London's original 2012 Olympics budget trippled?

It is South America's turn, y'all.
Samba de Janeiro, baby!

1 on 1: Carving your own path! An interview with Mark Ortega.

Hailing out of “Cristian Zaharia’s Miami Sharks handball factory”, arguably one of the most successful current US Team Handball players, member of the US MNT, at six foot and change, ladies and gentlemen, please welcome – Mark Ortega!!!

Alas, catching up with Jen Farrell was tough. It would have been impossible, if not for cyberspace.
Not so with Mark Ortega. Despite the many miles Mark traveled over the last several years while diligently carving a very successful professional career in Europe, Mark and I hooked up several time in that span. Most recently in Miami this past spring, where, like most every other US team handball fan, he was at the American Airlines Arena showing his support for the Frenchies. Mark and I talked about doing a story based on Mark’s experiences so far in his couple of years of European professional handball. Mark also wanted to give other aspiring US athletes and THN readers a different perspective of what is like to be USA Team Handball player.


BP: Let’s jump right in, Mark… Why the sport of team handball? What was your motivation?

MO: My Dad was the President of a large Student Bible Ministry (Encounter with Christ). He selected groups of students for short-term mission service. Five of our mission trips were to Olympic Games. That is when I became passionate about becoming an athlete for the USA. We had six kids in our family so, instead of my Dad working a secular job in addition to running a full-time ministry, he would send my Mom and six kids to work. In this way he could put all of his effort into leading the ministry. So, at a very young age I learned to be a hustler. I sold everything to support my Dad's work. In doing so I not only learned how to sell, I got to travel on all of the Mission trips. I was able to visit over 20 countries before I was 20 years old. All four boys in our family were great athletes; our two sisters were not. My brothers and I all had opportunities to play football or basketball in college. My older brother Ruben was a QB at Ohio State University. I competed in Gymnastics from age six to sixteen. My Father died suddenly when I was sixteen; at that time I began playing every other sport: track, basketball, wrestling, football (any sport I could get my hands on). I ended up playing football at Kent State University and Malone College. After college I decided to pursue my passion: being an Olympian. First, I looked at all Olympic sports to see where I could best help Team USA. It came down to Handball, Boxing, Luge, and Bobsledding. I chose Handball, because it was the most team-oriented and combined all of the athletic movements I had developed through many sports.

BP: Had no idea you were such a polyvalent athlete. I mean, luge and bobsledding were on your list? WOW! So what happened next, after you picked team handball?

MO: I called the Olympic Training Center and met Mike Cavanaugh over the phone. He gave me the number of the Men's National Team coach in Miami (Christian Zaharia). My new coach and Handball mentor was starting a club in Miami. At the first practice for Florida International University Handball (now the Miami Sharks), there were three athletes and Coach Zaharia. Over the next five years, I was just like everyone else in the USA who was committed to playing handball: working full-time (I was a Real Estate agent selling properties in Miami), then driving to Handball practice — one hour each way, two or three times a week. After two years of Handball, I was selected to take my first trip with team USA — Santiago, Chile. My second trip was to Aracaju, Brazil. These two trips were great. However, a wake-up call came when Coach Zaharia sent me to the training camps of two teams. The first was with Dinamo Bucharest in Romania. This was the first time that I truly watched and played in a high level of Handball. The second trip Coach Zaharia arranged was for me to play in the highest league in France with Club Paris. The team was unbelievable. Six of their members at the time were playing with the French National Team. From that time on, I realized that every day I was not playing in Europe, I was slowing down the efforts to better Team USA. After returning from France, I trained twice as much while in the US. I started to do individual workouts with Coach Zaharia.

BP: Must be nice having a coach who can facilitate such unique international opportunities! What was your handball European experience like? When and how did you actually make “the jump”?

MO: My first connection in Europe was a random email from a kid who was playing handball in the Fourth League Club in20Spain. He was a fan of American sports and had been to the U.S. on vacation when he witnessed USA Handball first-hand. His email was seeking any USA Athletes who wanted to play Handball in Spain. Two months later I found myself on the way to Santander, Spain, playing in their Forth League. I was promised a place to live and a job. In order to play at a higher level, I had to start somewhere. So, I arrived in Santander and met my new friend Miguel. I know Miguel had the best intentions for me. The first day I was there I went to practice with my new team and stayed at Miguel's house with his parents and brother who also played on the team. The next day Miguel woke me up and said, “We are going to try out with another team”. So, we proceeded to the tryout with a team about 40 miles away. This team offered me about $800 a month and really wanted me to play for them. I ended up telling them, "no", because I had made a promise to the coach from Nuevo, where I was promised a job and place to live. However, two weeks passed; Miguel decided to tell me that they are not going to give me a place to live, after all. So, I found myself with a team that was not keeping its promise, and having turned down another team who wanted to give me money. I signed with Nueva Montana, but with an open contract so I could leave to another team. The team supplied a job for 50 Euros a week working at a club bartending (too bad I did not speak Spanish and have never bartended).

BP: That’s admirable. I mean that! How did you adjust to your new lifestyle?
MO: There is nothing funnier then telling Spaniards who are drunk that you cannot speak very much Spanish and you are an American. They just kept talking, and I kept nodding my head. It was truly comical. After going to the local University and looking for an apartment on the bulletin board, I ended up living with two random Spanish guys who just needed another roommate. I paid 150 Euros a month. Let’s just say that I sacrificed that year for the love of Handball! I can make a lot of meals from potatoes and eggs. As far as my handball regimen went, I was lifting and practicing six or seven times a week and had games every weekend. I averaged from six to ten goals a game. My coach was a very nice guy but because he didn't like speaking English, he left the entire play calling to me. My coach's friend (who would show up for one or two practices a week) taught me a lot of handball. He is now a coach in the highest league in Spain. Overall, I think the New York team from this year's U.S. Nationals (2009), would beat our Spanish team. Santander, Spain was a beautiful city, and I made some great friends from all around the world. I would give my overall experience in Spain about a six-and-a-half out of ten. It was a building block. I had to look ahead to the next season, and I needed to be able to tell a team in a higher level that I had played handball in Spain for one year.

BP: Come to think of it, you were living the dream. Playing handball and living abroad. Just like Jen Farrell, Kathy Darling and others – you had certainly sacrificed a lot for the good of the sport you embraced. I think it is important to mention how difficult life can be – even when, in hindsight, it may look like a fun affair. I assume that your next project was to find a team in a higher, more competitive level?

MO: Exactly. My last eight games in Spain were filmed. From those, I compiled a highlight video, which was [link=]posted on YouTube[/link]. I proceeded to send the link to every relevant handball-related email I could get my hands on; Denmark, Norway, Germany, Finland, Sweden and any other country I could find. I browsed every Federation’s website along with European club websites to find email addresses. I sent over 300 emails to teams and coaches. I received only three responses from the emails and my YouTube posting. Let’s just say I was not happy with the result! Coach Zaharia forwarded to me an email that a European handball agent sent to the European Handball Federation. I contacted the agent (John M – who was looking to represent international athletes) who said he would look for a team for me. I was in the U.S. for the summer. I knew that no team would fly me over overseas just to go to a tryout. So I convinced John that I should buy a ticket to Denmark, and that once I was there he could send me wherever the “wind blew”. Luckily, the wind started blowing right away. I got to Denmark and John wanted to see the level I should be playing at, so I practiced with a team in the highest Danish league. I was not ready for that level, so I practiced with a team in the second highest league in Denmark. While John felt that the second league level was a good fit for me, the team unfortunately did not need any players. John and his family had invited me to stay in their home the whole week without even knowing me. From the beginning of my handball quest until Denmark, this was the most help I had received from anyone other than my coach. I was grateful that someone like John went out of his way to help a USA MNT member advance his handball career. John put me in a sport college for the weekend and came back to me on a Sunday at 10 at night. He said there were teams in Iceland and in Germany that needed players, and he would know more on Monday. One hour later he walked back in my room with an Atlas in his hand and said, "There is a team which is really interested; it's in the second best league in Norway." I said, "I know where Norway is." He replied, "But, do you know where Alta, Norway is?" Now, if you don’t know where Alta, Norway is, go Google it. I am serious; go look it up. GO. The team told me that if I’d buy the plane ticket, they’d reimburse. I bought a one-way ticket that night.

BP: I did look ALTA up. It is pretty darn north. Can’t believe that anyone would play handball over there. This of course brings us full circle to one of my posts right here on THN. Almost a year to date, Mark signed the contract with Alta IF.

MO: As you can see, Alta is just below the highest latitude line. When I arrived, I met with the team Manager (Bengt). After about an hour of talking he asked me when my ticket back home was. I told him I bought a one-way ticket. He looked at me with a smile. I stayed for the entire season. During the first practice I was interviewed by both of the local newspapers and they were very excited to have an American handball player in Alta ( In Alta, I experienced two months of darkness; rode a snow mobile; touched a reindeer; ate a reindeer; rode a snow mobile; drove a van through ice-covered mountains; witnessed the Northern Lights; made a lot of great friends; and I slayed a dragon. Alta is also home to the largest dog sled race in Europe. Between these amazing adventures I also played a lot of handball in the second-best league in Norway. All of our games required flights within Norway. I played in all of the second team games as well – a total of about 35 games. I was able to get a key to the gym and I would show up there sometimes in the middle of the night just to get in extra work. I became more of a gym rat than anything. The team paid for my apartment, gave me a little money and got me a part-time job at the only gym in town. We practiced five days a week. I lifted two or three times weekly and had my own workouts. I got a lot better in Norway. The city of Alta had a soccer team as well, also in the second division. I lived in Dorm Hall with a lot of these soccer guys. There was one other American in the town that played soccer (Jay Needem). Jay is now playing in his second season there. By comparison, the Alta IF handball team where I played was better than any U.S. team. I loved Alta. The biggest challenge I had in Norway was with my coaches. I had three in one season. The first coach was also a player. He played the center back position, which was the same position I played at. Thus, I had the opportunity to play at every other position during that season. I felt I learned a lot of handball in Norway as I got to play everywhere both on offense and defense. Mid-season, Alta hired another coach, who could only come to about half the practices. I never had an open line of communication with him. Although I had some issues with coaching, I was very satisfied with the amount of playing time I got in Alta.

BP: You mention coaching issues. What type of issues?
MO: My first coach was also a player. By the end of week nine of the season he had decided that he could not handle being a coach and a player. He just decided to be a player. So from that point on, the Assistant Coach, who did not want to accept the role of full time coach, reluctantly did as much as he could. Alta then decided to hire a coach with more experience. He lived in Oslo so he would only come to practice on Fridays, before games. This setup worked against me as I had no time to show the new coach what kind of player I was. That is why for the remainder of the season I played at all positions. The lack of consistency was what I had an issue with.

BP: So many miles apart and engulfed in lots of darkness, it sounds to me like Alta IF was the light at the end of the tunnel for you.
MO: It certainly was. I would also like to mention that the city of Alta was always very supportive of the local handball team. Every game was packed. I would compare the fans in Europe to the fans of US college football; very committed to their town and teams. I would have never dreamt of living in Alta, Norway. But it is one of those towns that I will take my kids to some day. I loved Alta. Unfortunately, Alta was relegated to a lower division.

BP: So now you are back in the US, recharging your batteries. Can we all assume that your handball career will take you back to Europe yet again?
MO: You bet! I get to do this all over again. At this point, I plan to play handball for the next five to seven years. I have my own personal goals, all detailed out – but I prefer to keep them to myself for now. This season I am in Germany. Of course there will still be bumps on the road and for me at least, is very normal. I would also like to say that I am very happy that there is a sudden rise of USA team handball players playing in Europe. Jordan Fithian, Gary Hines, Patrick Oliver, Keith Fine, Adam Elzoghby and a couple more coming over in February, are an added motivational factor for me to do better.

BP: What is your ultimate goal? What will make you look back one day and say to yourself: “I made it!”
MO: Hard to say. I can tell you that my biggest goal right now is to make it to the Olympic Games with the US MNT. So, I will continue to pursue my Olympic goal and nothing would make me happier than Chicago receiving the nod for the 2016 Olympic Games. Of course there is always 2012.

BP: Well said. You should get involved in politics! Any closing comments?
MO: If you fail to plan you plan to fail.

Story on Mark Ortega, translated from Norwegian local newspaper:

WNT Farrell guest interviews on American Public Radio's "The Story"

WNT player and the subject of my most recent [link=]interview[/link], emailed me to infrom me that she will be "doing a radio interview with American Public Radio "[link=]The Story[/link]" today!"

"I don't know what time it airs. They saw an article about me in the Duke magazine a little while ago and thought handball sounded interesting. So, I'm coming in to talk about handball, the national team and the upcoming Olympic bid in Chicago", Farrell wrote. "The radio show is broadcast nationally – but they should also post the interview online: Anyway, just wanted to give you a heads up about it! Always good to have handball out on the airwaves. :)" Jennifer concluded.

Duke Magazine Article (Feb 2008):

[b]Link to MP3 Audio:[/b] (Jennifer's interview starts at 31:00)
American Public Media: The Story:

1 on 1: Jennifer Farrell

The "[link=]1 on 1[/link]" interview series debuted back in 2005 as an add on feature to the [link=] [/link]website. What better place – and time – to revive this feature than right here, on THN.

While navigating the cyberspace over the summer, I caught up with my old friend, USWNT member, Jennifer Farrell. You may recall that she was the subject of [link=]my first THN podcast interview[/link], in the spring of 2006. Since then, Jen and I tried to get together for another interview but the timing was never right. Given Jennifer’s travels, we figured cyberspace may be our best option. We were both right. And just in the nick of time. Jennifer is, once again, on the move…

[color=#0000ff]Jennifer: – Hi Bogdan! I have a few hours before I get on the plane and thought I would answer some of your questions…[/color]

[color=#ff0000]Bogdan: – Hi back at you! First things first. Where the heck have you been, Jen?[/color]

[color=#0000ff]Jennifer: – Let’s back up to 2007. In August of that year, I left for Montpellier (France), after the WNT residency program ended when we lost our Olympic/World Championship qualifications. I was one of three WNT players who went off to France, the other two being Kathy Darling and Megan Ballard. I spent 2007 playing with a team in Montpellier, in the National 2 division of the French League, which is actually the fourth division. I was very lucky to be part of a great group of players, but the most exciting part was my coach, Laurent Puiseguer, who was the former captain of the French National Team. He was an amazing coach, and worked really hard to integrate me with other players on the team. My first pre-season was SO hard, but at the end of it, we went off on a [link=]weekend camping adventure in the Pyrenees[/link], and went climbing and canoeing and it really brought us close together. I enjoyed the camaraderie of the French teams a lot. [/color]

[color=#0000ff]In the beginning of 2008, I had an opportunity to move up to the National 1 division with a team in St. Etienne, so I took the opportunity to go and play there, but unfortunately I broke my foot within the first few weeks and spent the rest of the season on the sideline. Not the highpoint of my French handball experience!
In August 2008, I moved to Lyon to play with a team in Division 2, where the level of play made a significant jump to what is considered the semi-professional level. There were some players on pro contracts, others on developmental contracts, so the level varied player-to-player the but the league play was extraordinary. Again, I was very lucky to have a great coach who was very understanding of my situation and really interested to help me improve. The team practiced 5-7 times a week, up from 3-4 times at the National 1-2 level. The intensity was much greater.[/color]

[color=#ff0000]Bogdan: – Looking back – what do you make of the opportunity to play and live in France?[/color]

[color=#0000ff]Jennifer: – I am really glad I had the opportunity to go to France. When the US residency program ended, I knew that the only way I could improve my skills and really get handball experience was to go to Europe, and we were lucky that at the time our former WNT coach Christian Latulippe had some contacts there. In June 2007, I went to try-out for the team in Montpellier and was pleased when they decided to take me, and help me work out a place to stay and a way to live. The handball in France is extremely organized, and I think we learned a lot in the first year about how it works. There are a lot of complications that go along with playing in the French league: contracts, paperwork, and player licenses. The rules about licenses were very complicated, especially for players from outside of France and the European Union, things were heavily regulated. That was one reason that Kathy, Megan, and I could never play together- only one foreign player from outside the Europe Union could be on a roster. That limited our choices for teams, as we couldn't go to any other team with a Canadian or Chinese or Brazilian, or whatever, and clubs had to be picky about the foreign players they took.
The first year in France was the hardest- by far. Handball-wise, it was stressful, because I didn't know the drills, the plays, and couldn't understand what the coach was saying 80% of the time.
By the second year, things were going MUCH better, and I had a greater sense of how things worked within the teams, the club, the league, ect. I felt much more at ease and knew what to expect from the coaches, players, and club administrators. [/color]

[color=#ff0000]Bogdan: – Was there culture shock? If so, how did you deal with it?[/color]

[color=#0000ff]Jennifer: – I had taken French in high school, so I arrived being able to understand most of what people were saying to me, but even still it was ten times harder than I ever imagined. Kathy, Megan, and I were split up all over France, so when I arrived, I didn't know anyone. There were a few girls on the team who went out of their way to help me out, but I wasn't prepared for the isolation I felt. I am an outgoing person, but most of the girls on my team had played with each other for years, some of them since they were children, so breaking into the group was kind of hard. Most of my teammates were really nice, but they would tease me about the little things like my socks, or my accent, or the way I cheered for my teammates on the court when they did something well (they thought it was hysterical, apparently cheering during practice isn't part of French handball culture!). For the rest of my life, I will always be sensitive to people who come from somewhere else, because it is hard to be different.

As far as life goes, it seemed like nothing in France could ever be done quickly- even getting a bank account, or internet (Kathy and I laugh that it took us like 8 months to get internet, right in time for us to leave!). Getting my residency permit was a nightmare the first year, and I couldn't play without it. I spent several months ineligible to play because the French government took such a long time sorting out my paperwork. However, once you figure out the system, you can make it work for you. By year two, I think Megan, Kathy, and I were all experts on how to get things done in France, because we had hit every hurdle in the first year.
For all of its difficulties, there were a lot of great things about the French culture. They know how to enjoy life, they spend a lot of time with their families and friends, and the social aspect of life is important.[/color]

[color=#ff0000]Bogdan: – What was your impression of the French socialized healthcare system? Have to ask, given that healthcare is currently at the forefront of US politics? :)[/color]

[color=#0000ff]Jennifer: – The medical system was incredible, and I don't have enough positive things to say about it. Whenever I was hurt or sick, I got great care, at almost no cost to me, and it was fast and efficient. I also think that within the club, there was a big emphasis placed on athlete health and well-being. There was a team doctor and trainer, and injured athletes almost never played. Kathy and I used to laugh that we were afraid to tell the trainer when we had a small problem, because he would want you to get treatment twice a day for a week and you would definitely not practice or play. I think we come from a culture of "tape it up" and get on with it, but they definitely don't roll like that in France. The trainers didn't even have tape- if you needed tape, you didn't need to play.
We were also surprised by the athletes attitude towards health. A lot of the athletes smoked and drank during the season, which shocked me, especially when we would have to pull the team bus over every two hours for a team smoke break. That would NEVER happen with the US WNT!! Even dessert was forbidden when we were at competitions, and drinking and smoking were definitely prohibited.[/color]

[color=#ff0000]Bogdan: – Please describe how your game fit in with the French style; US vs France club level — if you will. Generally, American athletes/players – save for the NBA – tend to be more physical than skillful. Was this the case in your situation?[/color]

[color=#0000ff]Jennifer: – Yes. From a physical preparation perspective, I think the US culture puts more emphasis on it. When I was in Div. 2, we would do 5 pushups once a week, and there was no weight lifting. We did a lot of running, having one day a week of hardcore high intensity interval stuff, but for the most part, practice was spent doing practice. Pre-season was for running until you die so that you could do train and play from August until June. The season lasts forever.

I don't think anything could have prepared me for all of the challenges I faced in the first year, it was easily the most difficult year of my life. Thankfully Kathy and Megan and I would stay in contact by text messages or emails, and we got together once or twice during the few breaks we had, and that helped. Although it was challenging, I learned a lot and had some really incredible experiences, and I think that is why I really wanted to stay another year, so I could benefit from my experience and really get a lot of my time there.

Handball-wise, I learned a TON. Not just from a skill-perspective, but about what real handball looks like from an organizational level. The French Handball Federation is amazing, there is so much going on from the National team level down to the kiddie club level. It was great to be a part of that, to see how things could be. I think it was an inspiration for the three Americans to see what we would like to see the USA doing in the future.

There is no doubt the level of play is higher in France. I played in the second, third, and fourth division and at each level there were several incredible players that, had they been American, could have easily been the star of our national team. At the higher, professional level, like Division 2, some of my teammates had played for National Teams of other countries (Ivory Coast or Tunisia) and some that had been on the Youth National team for France. Athletically, they were good athletes, but not necessarily better than the girls on the US WNT, but their skills were just amazing. They saw the court better, they had three times as many moves in their repertoire, they had incredible foot speed and precision.

Even at the U-18 level, the sophistication of the play was better. But these athletes had also been playing since they were young kids, and there was a system in place to identify talented young kids and put them on regional teams "Pole Espoirs" (the regional hopefuls) so they could train and prepare for the National Team or professional level.

There was also a concept that within a large club, a talented athlete could move up through the club, from the U-16 to the Pre-National to the National 2/3 and eventually to the Division 1/2. There was upward mobility for talented athletes within a club and lots of opportunities to play at every level. Even the younger kids would play a full-season of 20-30 games against 12-14 different teams, not counting friendly matches and summer tournaments.

Kathy and I have also discussed how some of these concepts could be useful in USA handball. The older players from the Division 2 or National 1 team would often coach the younger kids of the club, and it gave coaching experience to the older players, saved the club money because they didn't pay for separate coaches for the younger teams, and also gave the young kids something to aspire to. The mentorship role of the older athletes in the club was great. I think if the USA WNT ever had a residency program again; it would be great objective to have the WNT players coaching the youth clubs in a particular region.[/color]

[color=#ff0000]Bogdan: – I really am happy that you had the opportunity to witness and experience firsthand the developmental team handball process. I also believe that for all their work, the current US handball hierarchy continues to miss the point on what it takes to grow the sport of handball in the US. Yet, even to an American, the blueprint is rather obvious. How about your game. Has it improved?[/color]

[color=#0000ff]Jennifer: – I like to think I made some improvements. I definitely learned a different way of doing many things. I think it was really frustrating in the beginning because my coaches wanted me to un-learn many of the things I had learned in the USA. They didn't like the way I did some things, and would try to teach me a different way of doing things, which was very hard in the beginning. When you've always thrown one way, or jumped one way, and suddenly you have to re-learn how to do that, it can be difficult. I think the French coaches probably had a good laugh sitting around talking about all of the ridiculous things that the American kids did on the court.
The best part about playing in France was seeing what good handball looked like, at games and in practice every day. Being surrounded by better players, makes you better. When you have people playing harder defense on you, you have to work harder to make a pass or get to the goal. When you have better goalies, you have to be smarter and more precise with your shooting. That kind of everyday challenge makes you better, no matter what.
Tactically, defensive strategy was different as well. I learned a lot about what a good, team defense looks like. It is not an individual skill, it is a team skill, and I think the French did that very well. Offensively, I learned a lot of techniques as a circle, and how to watch my backcourts, because we didn't use a lot of plays. The offense was very fluid, and I had to learn how to move with my teammates. In the beginning I would run into them, because they moved a lot faster, or had better fakes and faster reflexes than what I was used to with the WNT, but eventually I picked up on it, and learned to adapt.

Even though I always struggled to be at the same skill level as my teammates, the one thing I definitely brought with me was a sense of hustle and dedication. My teammates laughed at me in the beginning because when the coach blew his whistle, I would run, because that's how things worked in the USA. Hustle and attitude is very important with the WNT, and I tried to maintain that even if it wasn't so much a part of French culture. Even if I couldn't be the best person on the court, I always wanted to work hard, and I think my teammates respected that.[/color]

[color=#ff0000]Bogdan: – You make some great points. I too had a hard time adjusting to the American style of handball. As a pivot playing in Romania, I would always feed off of what the offense offered/showed. In the US, “coaches/trainers/experts” would often have plays set for the circle runner which took away from the beauty and fluidity of the game. Be that as it may – let’s change gears a bit. What have you heard from your French counterparts regarding this year’s Miami “Coupe De La Ligue”?[/color]

[color=#0000ff]Jennifer: – I was surprised that I didn't hear as much about this as I expected. To be honest, I think the idea was brilliant, and I was really looking forward to seeing how it turned out. I guess at that point in the season, my team was struggling to maintain their place in Division 2 after a couple of difficult losses, so my club and team were really focused on our own season. I will say that everyone definitely seemed to know it was going on in Miami, and all of them thought it was cool (and wish they could have been there!), but as far as how it turned out, I never heard much feedback from the French side of things.

As an aside, the year before, France hosted the Women's World Championship, and that was a REALLY big deal. I went to see a lot of games that were held regionally during the preliminary rounds and even made it to Paris to see the semi-finals and finals. The club got tickets for a lot of the early rounds, and we went to see the games as a team. When I was there, I recognized tons of people from around the French handball community, and it was great to see the stadiums filled with people. As a WNT, it was hard to watch since we had tried to qualify and lost, I couldn't help but wonder what it must be like to be on the court. But I had an amazing time as a spectator, and once again it was really motivating to watch these teams perform at such a high level. I think it gave us all a sense of where the US will have to be if we want to really compete on the world stage.[/color]

[color=#ff0000]Bogdan: – What are you up to now?[/color]

[color=#0000ff]Jennifer: – I am back in the US now, finishing up a Master's degree that I began in France. I am also applying to medical school in the USA, so hopefully I will start that in the fall of 2010. Having spent the last 5 years doing nothing but handball, it is hard to see myself prioritizing something else in my life, but I am looking forward to going to medical school, since I've been wanting to do that for a long time. I hope I can find opportunities to play and be involved in handball in the US, and of course hope I can stay in the WNT pool as long as I am able, there really is no greater joy than getting on the court with my old teammates and putting on a USA jersey.[/color]

[color=#ff0000]Bogdan: Speaking of the USA jersey. What are your thoughts on the new US Federation and how do you feel that it compares with the former?[/color]

[color=#0000ff]Jennifer: – It is funny, I feel so far removed from anything going on in USA handball right now. When I was with the WNT residency program, I think all of us felt like we were a major part of things, mostly because at the time there was no Federation, so everything we were doing, everything we wanted to do, we kind of had to do for ourselves. I think we were really resourceful during those years, with the support of a lot of great people in the handball community, including former players, WNT committee and members of the Foundation.

Now, I am not sure if I have actually even met anyone from the new Federation, and I feel like I'm way outside of the loop. However, based on what I'm seeing on their website, and twitter, it sounds like they have a lot of great things going on, so good for them. They are definitely getting things done, putting camps together, sending players overseas, so we've definitely come a long way from not having a Federation. I have to applaud their efforts to put their ideas into action.

I would like to see more happen with the WNT, in the two years that I've been gone, we have only gotten together once for a week-long camp in Chicago and then a competition in Mexico. I understand there is a lot going on in the development of regional camps and teams, but I think we need to keep a senior WNT in place, training, together on a regular basis, and playing games.

I am hopeful that this new Federation will move the USA in the direction of international success, but there is still a lot of work to be done. I would love to see the club system evolve to something like what I saw in France, with many players aged 3-50 playing at all different levels all over the country, even in the really small towns.[/color]

[color=#ff0000]Bogdan: – What are your thoughts on the current USWNT situation.[/color]

[color=#0000ff]Jennifer: – I don't know what's next for the USWNT, but I hope there is more to come. By the sounds of it, there is some young talent coming up, and I think it is great that we still have a core of girls who trained in the residency program that are still interested in playing. We also have three girls, who played at the Division 2 level in France, and Jen Haubrich is in Germany now, no doubt making excellent progress, and I think that can only do great things for us.

However, individual skills will only take us so far, I think part of what we need to do is have more opportunities to play and train together. The foreign players I played with in France always spent the summers doing camps and tournaments with their National Teams, but we're not there yet.

I also think, in an ideal world, there will be another residency program for the younger girls, to get them opportunities to train and play on a regular basis so that they can eventually go to Europe. I really believe that we need to have 10-15 players in the Division 1/2 level in Europe if we are going to be competitive. Ivory Coast, for example, has almost their entire team playing in France right now, and that is how they are making progress at the international level. And trust me, having played with some of the Ivorian girls, their resources aren't nearly as good as ours are, so we should be making better use of them.

When I got back from France this summer, I talked with Marko, who is the head coach for the WNT, and I think he is hoping to organize more training and playing opportunities this year. I think it is nice that we have someone on staff full-time who knows who the players are, has been to competition with us, and is working closely with the Federation to organize things. It is not an easy job, but I think he is really dedicated to seeing results, so it will be interesting to see what happens in the next few years.[/color]

[color=#ff0000]Bogdan: – Well Jen, you have certainly experienced, learned and certainly shared a lot with me and the THN readers. I must also say that you have sacrificed a lot in order to dedicate yourself to playing the sport you love. Your determination and personal sacrifice are admirable as both are qualities that are essential to the proliferation of team handball in the US. Players such as you, Kathy and Megan represent the new generation of US team handball trailblazers. Having said that – what is next for you?[/color]

[color=#0000ff]Jennifer: – Currently I'm going to school and getting my life together! For the first time since I graduated from college, I will be in charge of my own life, so I am looking forward to having a bit of a break from going to handball practice every day. At the same time, I will continue to work out and stay fit, and play handball whenever I get the opportunity. I will be in New York city this fall, so I will try to work with Cap (Cappleman, Chris) and Fitzy (Fitzgerlad, Tom) to see if we can get some women together to play!

In terms of future – I don't know what it holds for me, but I don't think I will be able to continue my life without handball in some capacity. I know I will not be an athlete forever, but I think because of what I've experienced with the WNT and being overseas, I have a lot to give back, and at some point I hope I can do that in a meaningful way. We have a lot of progress to make if we want to see this sport grow, and I think those of us that have been given a lot by this sport- especially the National Team athletes- should try to give back in return, in whatever role they can.[/color]

Checking in.

Oh yesss… The fresh smell of autumn is in the air. As in the … season, of course.
Well, maybe not so much in Houston, where we are blessed with 90 plus degrees temperatures year round and 110% humidity, but my guess is that those of you north of the Mason-Dixon line, are begining to savour the change of seasons.

For years now, fall has witnessed, among so many other things, the yearly coming out party for all things team handball in the US. Clubs will typically come out of their summer-long hibernation, looking to get back in the gym, in time to prepare for those great US tournaments.

On a personal note, I have had a wonderful summer, thanks for asking.

From what I've been reading, everybody in the US handball community kept plugging away, [u]seemingly[/u] building for the future (wink, wink!). Let's see:
– I dig the new Federation's website. Love the new setup. The regional coaches/directors "updates" are oh, so very cute. Timely and full of fluff.
– John Ryan's team handball manifestos are just so much fun to read.
– Did I just read somewhere that our dear US Handball Federation is now asking for money from the USOC? Say it isn't so! It's a good thing these guys don't run for political office. Truth is overrated.
– Is Rex's Colorado Springs handball club getting all the perks just because they're in the USOC's backyard? Just asking.
– Poland vs. Germany in Chicago next year? Awesome. I am buying my ticket.
– North American Handball Federation – if that is the only legacy the current US Federation leaves behind, I say go for it. Bring on Greenland. And, of course, watch your backs. PATHC will be out for blood. Losing revenue ain't cool. To them.
– The Olympic Network is DEAD. Shocker!
– So, [link=,olympic-report-2016-finalists-090209.stng]the Chicago Olympic bid is shaky[/link] – not the kind of news you would expect a month before the official selection process. My pick is still Rio.

Good to be back! Thanks for all your emails. So you know, this summer I received over 150 of them(I got one from Mongolia!!!). Should make for an interesting "From the mailbag" feature.

As always, stay tuned. I have two great interviews for you — coming up.

Germany – Poland in talks for International Match in Chicago: Boom, boom pow!

First Miami and the LNH.

Now, here come the Germans and the Poles.

[link=][/link] is reporting that a 2010 friendly match between Poland and Germany at Chicago's United Airlines Arena is in the works. If anyone can translate the article – please do!

Thanks to Nathalie Dorner for the tip.

Addendum: Handball-World has two articles on U.S. – Germany cooperation
Interview with Frank Schneller:
Translation Page:

Dream with Unlimited Possibilities: International Match against Poland in the USA:
Translation Page:

Anyone can assist in updating the wikispace translation pages. Simply click the "edit this page" button and start typing. To start a google automatic translation has been uploaded.

2009 USA Team Nationals Format

The current format of this year's Nationals is creating quite a stir among the participants.

A flurry of emails have been exchanged within the team handball community over the past 24 hours. The 2009 Nationals seeding format has been under heavy scrutiny by those attending.

I've started a forum thread so that everyone can chime in on this very heated topic.

On a personal note, there appears to be an abundance of evidence pointing to a lack of team handball knowledge and tournament experience among the NGB staff members.

The current NGB continues to struggle when it comes to elementary team handball concepts.
The seeding format ([link=docs/usath09.pdf]click here[/link] for details) is not only flawed but, with very few exceptions, laughable.

It is unfrotunate that with so little time left on the clock befoe the Nationals are set to pass off, the handball commnunity continues to be shafted.

Golden opportunity.

The US Handball community had the unique opportunity to be part of history. The fact that most chose to ignore it comes as no surprise!

The THN forums have been filled with expert testimony and opinion on why the Miami experiment did not succeed. You see, and JR hit on this, if the event was 99% successful the media would still harp on the 1% negatives. It certainly is easier to destroy than to build something. Some of you know this damn well.

So, what really happened in Miami?

A lot, actually, and most of you were not there to see it.

Let’s start with the idea of hosting such an event on US soil.
The fact that two Americans pulled it off, despite many obstacles – most of which were US made (if you get my drift), is not only commendable but should also be preserved as evidence that one’s desire, experience AND credibility can (and will) materialize into something special and unique, in spite of rogue entities and against all odds.

The opportunity we have to criticize and second guess the likes of Zaharia, AC and the LNH was bourne out of a courageous dream. To not congratulate the principals behind the MIAMI LNH project is selfish. And in poor taste, I might add.

Plead what you will about why you were not in Miami. Excuses are like you know what. And I don’t buy them. Anymore. If there was a bag of gold waiting for you in Miami, my guess is you would have been there. I am of the belief that [b]"it’s not that people are unable to make it, it's that they choose not to make it." [/b]The 38 members of the Quebec youth teams who traveled by bus nonstop all the way from Canada to Miami. certainly proved that where there is a will, there is a way. But who cares what I think, right?

Having closely covered team handball last summer for (thank you USATH), the Miami Coupe de la Ligue was a fitting conclusion to a personal whirlwind international team handball experience. It began with France’s MNT winning the Olympic Gold in Beijing, culminated with the World Championship Title in Croatia and ended with a memorable live appearance of some of the best team handball the world had to offer in Miami, FL. Narcisse, Martini, Karaboue, Richardson and even Nicolas, to name just a few, provided me and those at the American Airlines Arena, with the perfect blend of French handball past, present and future.

The intimate setting of this event was unique even to the French fans. The opportunity to mix and mingle with their idols away from the stickum and the small handball arenas, was something the French fans, and the media, will cherish for a very long time.

With just under 12 months to go until the 2010 LNH Coupe, the Frenchies have plenty of time to analyze and point fingers. My hope is that those in charge of this magnificent event are wise enough to ignore the negative local media buzz and look to kick this event up a notch.

Harness the positives! Recognize the hard working organizers, from the leadership of AC Tellison and Cristian Zaharia on down to the tireless efforts of John Eckart and Mike Garrity – whose names will not appear anywhere besides this article – the great venue, first class accommodations, great support of the community, and build on that!

With enough time and a better understanding of what is expected from all parties involved, the LNH, Coupe De La Ligue and New World Sports should have no problems making everyone happy in 2010.

Bags of gold notwithstanding!

Breaking news out of Miami!

It appears that retired French handball icon Jackson Richardson will return to action professionally, following his Miami Coupe De La Ligue All Star game appearance, later this afternoon (17:00 EDT).

Jackson just confirmed that he did indeed sign a two month contract with HBL's Rhein-Neckar Lowen. He is set to report to the German club on Monday. April 13th.

This sets up a unique matchup between fomer retired French MNT teammates, as Richardson (Rhein-Neckar) will face Martini (Kiel) in a the CL semi final round.