Gros: When you do things you’re afraid of, you can overcome everything

01 Jun. 2023

Gros: When you do things you’re afraid of, you can overcome everything

The 'Dream Big' series focuses on the stories of elite handball players, from childhood or their discovery of the sport through to now. The IHF recognises the important part athletes play as role models for children and young people who dream of becoming professional handball players — or pursuing any goal. With that in mind, this series aims to bridge the gap children and young people may perceive and show them the diverse paths to the top. 

The second instalment of the series centres on Györ and Slovenia right back Ana Gros, whose most notable international achievements include the top scorer crown in the EHF Champions League in 2020/21 and the fact that she is among the top 10 scorers of all time in the premier club competition. 

Slovenia right back Ana Gros is well known for her ability to hammer in goals from extreme distances, but her arm was not always quite so lethal — "in primary school, when we were playing like these kinds of games when you have thrown the ball over the small court or something like that, I had no power in my arm. I couldn't throw the ball over half of the court even," Gros says today, laughing at the memory. 

"No one wanted me to get the ball because they knew I couldn't throw it on the other side."

How things have changed. Now, the situation is completely different — any team with Gros in the line-up is sure to want to make use of her as much as possible and to even frame their attack around getting the ball to her. In the case of an approach to the call of passive play, Gros will almost certainly end up with the ball, as her team bet on the fact that she is the one most able to score under pressure and despite the defence knowing clearly that she is about to shoot. 

This weekend, Gros will be on court at the EHF FINAL4 in Budapest, battling for the EHF Champions League trophy with her team Györ. Gros enters the EHF FINAL4 as the 10th top scorer of the season, and will certainly climb this ranking over the weekend as many above her are no longer in the competition. The 84 goals she has scored in 2022/23 add to the 635 she scored in previous seasons, which places her in ninth position on the all-time top scorers list of the world's toughest club competition. 

In the history of the Champions League, Gros had the second most successful season ever — in 2020/21, she scored 135 goals for French club Brest Bretagne, as they reached the final for the first time ever. Only one other player has beaten that record in a single season: Natalia Morskova, in 1996/97, when she scored 150 goals. 

"I honestly don't know how in this game that I have such a strong shot now," says Gros, adding that it was not something she worked on in particular. It developed quite naturally along with the rest of her handball skills. "With the years then it got stronger and stronger."

Now 32 years old, Gros started playing handball at the age of 10. At that time, she was mainly interested in volleyball, as her father was a volleyball player, but it was not available in her hometown so, with her father's encouragement, Gros tried handball. She also tried tennis and enjoyed skiing, but was never focused on those as options of sports she really wanted to pursue. So when did she know she wanted to really focus on handball? 

"It's hard to say when was exactly the moment," says Gros. "I progressed very quickly I think. I was also left-handed, which is, we all know, like a bit of a bonus in handball. "To make it more serious, actually, was when I left my hometown. When I finished primary school and I had to leave, at 14 years old, my home to move to Ljubljana, to the capital." 

In Ljubljana, Gros signed an agreement with the junior-age academy at the country's most recognisable women's club, Krim. In Ljubljana, Gros was part of a 'gymnasium', a kind of sports high school, where her class was mostly handball players. 

"This was like very known for handball players," explains Gros. The day-to-day included club trainings in the afternoon, as well as training in the morning with the school group. "It was a really good option for me to go there because of all these trainings. But of course we didn't have just handball trainings. We also had athletics and gymnastics, so it was a lot in the package of it to really get how to say a good in all aspects of sports."

It would not be long until Gros would be called to the national team for the first time. The call came when she was 16. 

"At that time, I was playing for Olympia," says Gros. "I was actually on loan from Krim to the second team where most of us young players were playing the first division in Slovenia for development, and the coach was the same there as in the national team.

"After one training with the club he just called me aside and said, 'Ana, I decided to call you for the national team', and that was it. And I was like, pretty surprised and shocked, you know — I was 16 years old.

"It was really an amazing, amazing moment."

Gros then made her major championship debut at the EHF EURO 2010, when she was 19. 

"At that time, we were not qualifying, really, a lot for the big tournaments," says Gros, reflecting on how it took some years from her first call-up to the first big national team event. "We were struggling."

Now, Slovenia have become a mainstay at major championships. Prior to Gros' first EHF EURO, the team had played three European Championships and four World Championships. Since 2016, they have played every EHF EURO and every World Championship. At the EHF EURO 2022, which Slovenia co-hosted alongside Montenegro and North Macedonia, the team recorded their best result ever in the competition, jumping from 16th place in 2020 to eighth. 


Ana Gros


During the EHF EURO 2022, Gros became the all-time top scorer for Slovenia, underlining her important role in the recent years of qualification success and her strong performance at the home EURO. 

"It was really like a once-in-a-lifetime experience. I think it's such a privilege, especially for the small country we are — we know that you don't get so many opportunities to have such a big tournament at home, and it was something that we, all of us, were waiting for," says Gros. "It was such a special energy in the team at that time."

Gros had heard from other players that the experience of playing a home event is like nothing else and that you cannot understand the feeling until you are in it. As women's handball has not traditionally been as popular as men's in Slovenia, it was particularly special for the team to have such crowds behind them. And they rode the support all the way to the last main round day, when the chance for a semi-final berth was still alive, before ultimately settling for the eighth position that was still a new tournament record for the team. 

"We were so happy that the people really came and supported us," said Gros. "Now I think also this competition made us really more connected in the team.

"Not just on a handball level also — on a personal level we connected so much. We shared so many good moments also outside of the court in the hotel and like this kind of thing that makes you really, really nice memories forever."

Aside from the championship experience and the off-court memories, the home EHF EURO 2022 left Slovenia with something else: a new dream. 

"I think it's really connected us and that's why we have now really huge goals in the future: the Olympics that are coming. Maybe for us, as a small country, it was never even something we could dream about. But now, I think it's something that's pretty much realistic. So we really want to fight for that and we really hope that."

Slovenia have never qualified for the women's handball competition at the Olympic Games, so it would be a historic achievement. The next step is a strong performance at the 26th IHF Women's World Championship in Denmark, Norway and Sweden at the end of the year. 

As she faces this challenge along with her teammates, Gros holds on to something that has driven her throughout her career: courage. This is the element she focuses on when asked about advice for kids and young people hoping to become professional handball players. 

"Throughout my career, it was always about not giving up of course, when it gets hard," says Gros. "But the most [important] thing is that you have to have courage. I think it's like you cannot be afraid to get into something, you know? Like if you're afraid of something, I would say this is the sign that you have to do it. Just in this way I think you can succeed and you can overcome everything, because then when you will do it, even though you're afraid of it, then you can really feel what is the power in you. And no matter how it will go, this experience, whatever you choose, it can never be a bad decision.

"I was afraid of many things and like, but I always had the courage to do it. So I would say this is like the something that for me was the most important and I would also, of course, advise to the younger generation." 

Before she plays the World Championship with Slovenia though, Gros will finish the Champions League season this weekend in Budapest at the pinnacle club event, the women's EHF FINAL4, where the semi-finals and finals are played over two consecutive days. Gros played her first EHF FINAL4 in 2020/21, reaching the final with Brest Bretagne, where they were defeated by Vipers Kristiansand. On that occasion, her team eliminated Györ in the semi-final. This Saturday, Gros takes the court with Györ, as the Hungarian club target their sixth trophy in the competition. 

"Of course, I'm looking forward to it and I think this year will be very special because we have two Hungarian teams and I think it will be a crazy atmosphere," says Gros, referring to the fact that Budapest's own team FTC have reached the FINAL4 for the first time, along with Györ.

"We know this will be, of course, very hard. Like, at every FINAL4, I think there are no favourites, because it depends also so much on the day form of everyone. So, it's like really everything, what you did before in the season, it doesn't count at all. You could play the best handball throughout all the season, but it can happen that in one day all can change. So, that's what it makes it so exciting because you don't know what to expect from yourself, from your team, of course, but also from the others."