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Date: 4/20/2017
 

After the news broke last week that Rio 2016 gold medal-winning coach of the Danish men’s team Gudmundur Gudmundsson would be taking over the same role for the Bahrain men’s national team with immediate effect, the Bahrain Handball Federation (BHF) officially unveiled him last night (19 April) at a media conference in Manama, the capital of the Gulf island.

 

During the conference, Gudmundsson signed his official contract with the BHF under the supervision of BHF President, Ali Mohamed Isa Eshaqin and met with officials from the federation before talking to the media in attendance.

 

Gudmundsson had previously been on a three-year contract with the Danish Handball Federation (DHF) since 2014 and was set to be succeeded by Nikolaj Jacobsen, the current Rhein-Neckar Lowen coach, but opted to finish his contract earlier, in agreement with the DHF.

 

“In my view, it’s best for the team and myself that I leave now as the national team’s coach and, thereby, give Nikolaj the best possible preparation for taking over,” Gudmundur stated to the media at the time of his resignation.

 

Gudmundsson will be remembered in Denmark as one of the best, if not greatest, coaches of their men’s side having not only guided the side to gold at the Rio 2016 Olympics – their first medal at an Olympics in male handball, after the three-in-a-row that the golden generation of Danish women won (1996, 2000, 2004) – and claiming silver in Denmark at the EHF EURO 2014.

 

However, a disappointing 2017 IHF Men’s World Championship in France saw his side finish 10th after losing to Hungary in the eighth-finals.

 

Despite this, his achievements for Denmark saw him honoured with the ‘Knight's Cross of the Order of Dannebrog’ by the Danish Royal Family, an honour given to those “who worked for benefit of the fatherland”.

 

The Bahrain national team, where he is set to start working full-time from August, will be the third country the 56-year-old has coached after coaching Iceland twice (2001-2004 and 2008-2012) where he won silver at the 2008 Beijing Olympics and bronze at the EHF EURO 2010 in Austria.

 

Gudmundur started playing handball at the age of seven with his home team Vikingur, playing both handball and football for the next 10 years until concentrating on handball at 18, eventually playing for the national team from 1980-1990, before retiring at the age of 30.

 

Educated as a systems analyst with a diploma in management and personnel administration, and with a Master’s degree in finance and international banking, Gudmundsson has also coached Rhein Neckar-Lowen, winning the 2012 Men’s EHF Cup.

 

“My contract is only seven months,” said Gudmundsson to Icelandic media. “It was my wish that this should be so because I want to see how it goes and how I feel about it – Bahrain is far away from Iceland.

 

“I’m very excited about this project, it is a certain kind of adventure – my family and I came here and it's like being in another world – the people are very friendly.

 

“Everything is open about what I’ll do next,” he continued. “My first assignment is training the team for three weeks, then again in November, and then constant training in December until the Asian Men’s Championship starts in January.

 

“I realise that Bahrain is not the strongest team in the world, but I see a lot of potential in them - there is a will to advance and I think this project and this place are both very exciting.”

 

His initial contract will lead up to those 2018 AHF Asian Men’s Championships to be held in January and Bahrain will be looking to make it third time lucky after losing to Qatar in the final at the last two editions, both held in Bahrain.

 

Gudmundsson replaces the Algerian coach Salah Bouchekriou who is now the new national head coach of the United Arab Emirates, having signed a contract with the United Arab Emirates Handball Federation until 2018. Bouchekriou was previously national coach for Bahrain from 2013 to 2015 and took charge of them at France 2017.

 

Bahrain have been overshadowed in the region in previous years by the might of Qatar, and have only qualified for two world championships in their history – 2011, where they finished 23rd and France 2017, where they lost all seven games, including a 30:26 defeat to Gudmundsson’s Denmark, to finish 23rd again.

 

To qualify for France, they finished as runners-up at the 2016 AHF Asian Men’s Championships to Qatar.

 

They also missed out on qualifying for Rio 2016 after finishing last in a group featuring Norway, Croatia and, again a Gudmundsson-led Denmark, at the IHF Men’s Olympic Qualification Tournament III held at the Jyske Bank BOXEN in Herning, Denmark in April.

 

For a nation where handball is a relative young sport – the first board of directors was founded in 1972 – the game in Bahrain has featured many diverse stops since its foundation. Junior and youth teams broke onto the world stage, qualifying for world championships in the 1990s, before an historic eighth-place finish at the 2007 IHF Men’s Youth World Championship held on home soil.

 

Their hiring of Gudmundsson not only represents a bold move by the BHF to employ one of the world’s best coaches, but also highlights the second high-profile move of a successful Icelandic coach to Asia, after Dagur Sigurdsson left the German team to move to Japan earlier this year.

 

For more information visit the Bahrain Handball Federation website at: http://www.boc.bh/en/about-sports/handball

Photos: BHF

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