* Beijing silver medallists Russia ease past Britain
* Holders Norway respond to shock opening loss with win
* French President Hollande cheers on his team (Adds late matches)
By Tom Pilcher
LONDON, July 30 (Reuters) - A look at the teamsheet before Russia dished out a 37-16 lesson to Britain rather than the statistics afterwards gave a clue as to what was the key factor in the result on Monday. Height.
Beijing silver medallists Russia’s shortest two players are 1.73 metres, while eight of Britain’s squad of 14 are shorter than that and three also stand at the same height.
Reigning champions Norway are by no means physical giants but came back from their shock 24-23 defeat to France in their opening match with a 24-21 win over neighbours Sweden in the last evening game.
British left back Kathryn Fudge, the second tallest in the team at 1.83 metres, wished her team mates were just slightly taller to give the inexperienced newcomers more of a chance against superior opposition.
“It’s a massive advantage,” she told Reuters.
”The taller, the stronger, the better. However skillful you are, if there’s someone 6 ft 2 ins (1.88 m) jumping over you there’s nothing you can do.
“These are top players,” she added of their opponents, the four times world champions who were berated by their coach as “boiled sausages” for taking their foot off the pedal in the second half.
Team Britain was only formed after London won the Olympics in July 2005 and consists of players chosen via a recruitment programme called “Sporting Giants”, where tall athletes were picked for handball, rowing and volleyball.
In fact the home team only have two 6 ft (1.83 m) athletes, one of whom stands in goal. Russia’s squad, in contrast, is littered with players around 1.80 metres.
When 1.90 metre left back Victoria Zhilinskayte came near diminutive winger Zoe van der Weel the words mismatch sprung to mind, though not for the feisty Brit.
“If you’re strong it’s fine,” she told Reuters, laughing as a few more Russian giants swamped her in the media area.
“We’ve been training in the gym three times a week. I won’t say that there isn’t a big advantage with height in handball, but it’s not essential for the sport,” the nippy right wing said.
Speed was more prominent in South Korea’s narrow 25-24 win against three-times champions Denmark, the Beijing bronze medallists profiting from a series of fast breaks to move nearer to quarter-final qualification.
South Korea top Group B with four points, as do Russia in Group A where Croatia recorded their first win by beating Angola 28-23 to leave the Africans winless and second-bottom, above Britain.
Brazil scraped a fast-paced game against debutants Montenegro 27-25 to lie second in Group A.
French President Francois Hollande watched on as his nation staged a last-gasp comeback to draw with Spain 18-18, Allison Pineau firing in a low slinger with six seconds on the clock.
Hollande, who had been at the judo earlier and was heading to watch France’s swimmers in action, posed with several fans rejoicing after the late-show by his nation’s side.
The atmosphere did not abate for the all-Scandinavian tussle between world, Olympic and European champions Norway and Sweden, who fought back to within two goals with a minute remaining but lost to sit bottom of Group B without a win. (Editing by Alison Williams and Justin Palmer)