Handball: Britain's coaches beg for patience...and height
LONDON (Reuters) - While British athletes in a variety of disciplines have been draped in Olympic gold and widespread acclaim over the past 10 days, the handball players have been literally dwarfed by their opponents.
With barely any experience on the main international stage and an acknowledged lack of height in what is predominantly a sport for tall, physical athletes, Britain have been left exposed.
Nothing different was really expected and the crowds still cheered the women's and men's teams to the sound of David Bowie's "Heroes" on Sunday and Monday when they bowed out of the London 2012 Games.
Fans need to stay patient with the handball teams as the little-known sport continues its battle for recognition on the soccer-mad British Isles, coaches say.
Outgoing men's coach Dragan Djukic, a Serbian who will soon take charge of Israel, told Reuters on Monday his young team had struggled to cope with the pressures of big-stage competition but have a great future.
"Our team had a big problem with lack of experience. But this is just the beginning. If people don't continue that can be a problem but I think the time for British handball is coming," he said.
"I think it can be one of the great indoor sports here in the UK because it's a picture of the fighting spirit of Britain."
Women's coach Jesper Holmris agreed, then pleaded for taller players to take up the sport.
"We can see we need bigger players and more time. It's about investment in the sport. We're behind the top nations physically," he told Reuters.
Britain's size was most notable against Beijing silver medalists Russia a week ago.
The inspirational noise on Sunday following his team's exit touched Dane Holmris, who hopes British handball can ride the wave of the nation's success in other sports and break through.
"It's been a win for handball, the crowds are electric. It will take about another four to six years but there should be a fantastic future for handball in Britain. There's a lot of passion there," he said, teary players hugging behind him.
"It's been a long journey. We haven't had a lot of attention."
Both teams were only formed in 2005 after London won the right to host the Olympics, and had to withstand funding cuts in 2009.
"I hope it's the first page of handball in this country. I believe in a great future for British handball," said Djukic, who feels the sport should take off given it is played indoors.
"It's great to have children in an indoor hall instead of in the street or in pubs."
Sports historians say societies tend to focus on three or four sports at most, so handball could struggle to break through given the popularity of soccer, golf, cricket, rugby and the increasing love of cycling.
Iceland coach Gudmundur Gudmundsson, hoping to lead his team to a rare Olympic medal in London after winning the country's first silver since 1956 in China four years ago, said he thought handball had a future in Britain.
"I think it suits the character of the British very well. Some of our ancestors came from Britain, so I'm sure it's a fantastic sport for the British," he told Reuters.
(Additional reporting by Annika Breidthardt; Editing by Sonya Hepinstall)
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