09 Aug. 2021
Sixteen intense days of handball, which provided 76 superb games, are in the past now, with France securing the gold medals in both the men’s and the women’s Olympic handball tournaments at Tokyo 2020. We take a look back at some of the best moments from one of the most memorable Olympic handball competitions ever.
The historical achievement of France
For the first time since 1984, a country won both the men’s and the women’s Olympic handball tournaments in the same year, with France following in the Soviet Union’s and Yugoslavia’s footsteps to secure the gold medal in emphatic fashion. Dropping only a single game on their way to the gold medal and only four in the last 32 in the Olympic Games, France’s men have established themselves as the sole team to have won the Olympic title thrice, prompting huge coverage from international and local media alike. Three players – back Nikola Karabatic, and wings Michael Guigou and Luc Abalo – became three-time Olympic champions, tying Russia’s Andrey Lavrov for this achievement. Moreover, France are the first team to break the 250-goal milestone in a single Olympic tournament, scoring 256 times, one goal more than Denmark.
Their women’s side had a rockier path to the trophy, but when they hit the ground running, it was plain sailing for a team which was used to gritty wins in the past. Their 32:22 win drubbing of reigning world champions, the Netherlands, in the quarter-finals, raised some eyebrows, but their form was confirmed in the semi-final against Sweden, 29:27, and in the final against the ROC, 30:25. It was a vintage tournament for France, who became only the third European side to seal the Olympic Games, IHF Women’s World Championship and Women’s EHF EURO treble. And it took them only four years, becoming world champions in 2017, European champions one year later, with the Olympic title completing their trophy cabinet.
Gidsel’s on fire
One year ago, Mathias Gidsel was not even in Denmark’s squad, but his superb debut at the IHF Men’s World Championship in January made him a lock for Nikolaj Jacobsen’s team at Tokyo 2020. Gidsel has only 25 games for his national team, but he has already scored 116 goals, while also earning All-Star right back at Egypt 2021 as well as the MVP award at Tokyo 2020. He is the youngest MVP in Olympic Games history and looks like the player most likely to take the baton from Mikkel Hansen when he retires.
Gidsel was the second-best scorer at Tokyo 2020, with 46 goals, 15 less than teammate Mikkel Hansen, also topping the assist chart, with 36 assists. In total, Gidsel had a direct hand in 31.7% of Denmark’s 255 goals in the competition. He has really been on fire in 2021 and was celebrated by his teammates, despite Denmark losing the final against France, 23:25.
A bittersweet ending for Spain, a new look for Maqueda
In the last dance for many experienced players, like centre back Raul Entrerrios, defensive specialist Viran Morros and line player Julen Aguinagalde, Spain won the bronze medal, their fourth in history. It was not the best tournament for ‘Los Hispanos’, who conceded two losses in eight games, with their defence more permeating than in the past, but they were all smiles after winning the bronze-medal game against Egypt, 33:31.
It was surely an emotional moment for many players, but also the start of a serious rebuild for coach Jordi Ribera. And the perfect time for a new look for Jorge Maqueda. The Spanish right back won his seventh medal in major international tournaments and he decided to shave his beard and cut his hair if Spain won a medal at Tokyo 2020. Maqueda was a man of his word and duly delivered on his promise, making him impossible to recognise after the change.
Bright future for Egypt
It was an unprecedented Olympic tournament for Egypt, who had never reached the semi-finals before in six participations. The ‘Pharaohs’ displayed a superb form, winning five games, as many as they did in the last four editions of the Olympic Games combined, scoring 239 goals, only 17 less than at Beijing 2008 and Rio 2016 combined. Despite losing their semi-final against winners France and the bronze-medal game against Spain, Egypt look seriously dangerous for the next years, with a young core that will surely hamper the European powerhouses.
In fact, right back Yahia Omar became the first non-European player to be selected in the All-star team at the Olympic Games since Korea’s Chi-Hyo Cho at Barcelona 1992, with backs Ahmed Mohamed and Yehia Elderaa also pulling huge shifts to help Egypt secure their best-ever result in the competition. The caveat? Legendary back Ahmed Elahmar called it quits to his international career after Tokyo 2020, after scoring 1,035 goals for the national side.
Vyakhireva, THE MVP
For the second time in a row, ROC’s right back, Anna Vyakhireva, was selected as the MVP of the women’s tournament at the Olympic Games. The combination of creativity, speed, dazzling breakthroughs and powerful shots was decisive for Vyakhireva, who led the ROC side into their second consecutive final, after securing gold at Rio 2016. This time, the ROC only got the silver, but Vyakhireva was their best scorer, with 43 goals, and the third-best assist provider in the competition, with 31 assists. She became the only player in history to take two MVP awards at the Olympic Games, while Norway’s right back, Nora Mork, also became the first to win two top scorer awards in a row.
However, Vyakhireva, who battled injuries over the last years, missing several months for the ROC side, while also failing to take the court at the EHF EURO 2020, is considering retirement or at least a break from handball. Whether she will deliver on this is still unknown, but ROC will surely miss a player of her calibre when the 2021 IHF Women’s World Championship starts in Spain in December.