July 20, 2012

SI.com's writers will preview each event from the 2012 Summer Olympics in London. Here, Stephanie Apstein looks ahead to handball.

Mikkel Hansen, Denmark: The 24-year old 2011 International Handball Federation (IHF) World Player of the Year comes by his skills naturally: his father, Flemming Hansen, scored 240 goals in 120 national team matches and was a member of Denmark's fourth-place 1984 Olympic team.


After going into the Beijing Games as favorites and finishing a disappointing seventh, the Danes have taken measures to ensure that this time they finish the job, taking silver at the 2011 World Championships and gold at the 2012 Euros. The younger Hansen, a left back, has led the charge, with a record 68 goals at Worlds and nine goals in the Euro final against Serbia, which Denmark won 21-19.

Thierry Omeyer, France: France has long been a dominant team in men's handball, with gold in 2008 plus four world and two European titles, and its goalkeeper is one of the reasons for its success. He tied for first in Beijing with 41% of shots saved, won that year's IHF World Player of the Year award and, in a '10 IHF poll, was voted best goalkeeper of all time.

Heidi Løke, Norway: The 29-year-old pivot did not go to Beijing, where Norway's gold medal broke Denmark's string of three straight, but she's seemingly been making up for lost time ever since. Her incresainging success culminated when she won this year's IHF World Player of the Year award after leading the Champions League in scoring and winning the 2011 World Championships.

Great Britain vs. Angola, women (Aug. 3, 9:30 a.m. GMT): The Brits shocked the world by upsetting then-seven-time African Champions Angola (who have since won another title) 22 to 20 at the London test event in November.

Serbia vs. Croatia, men (July 31, 2:30 p.m. GMT): These two teams faced each other in the semifinal of the 2012 European Championships (Serbia won 26-22), and things got ugly. Thousands of policemen had to be deployed to provide security to fans and players alike, and Serbian back }�arko `�ea�um was hit in the eye with a dart thrown by a fan and intended for a Croat.

Although handball is the most popular women's sport -- and second most popular men's sport, after soccer -- in Europe, it never really caught on in Great Britain. With the host country automatically awarded a slot in team sports, organizers saw an opportunity in 2005 to generate interest and placed ads in the newspaper. Before trials began, potential recruits watched matches on YouTube to gain some idea of the rules. But despite a rocky beginning, the teams have come together and have set their sights on making the top eight and progressing to the second round.

Every time Hansen, whose nickname is "The Hammer," scores a goal for his club team, AG Kobenhavn, the PA system plays MC Hammer's "U Can't Touch This"...Norwegian right wing Linn-Kristin Riegelhuth Koren, the 2008 IHF World Player of the Year, is also a nurse...European countries have won 32 of 33 Olympic handball medals.

Aug. 11: Women's team

Aug. 12: Men's team

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