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    HomeNewsHeadlinesOlympics-France target back-to-back handball sweeps on home court

    Olympics-France target back-to-back handball sweeps on home court

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    PARIS – French hearts will be set on their highly popular men’s and women’s handball teams winning Olympic gold together on home soil this year, repeating their rare double triumph in Tokyo.

    A handball sweep had only previously been achieved by two now defunct countries — Yugoslavia at the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics and the Soviet Union in the 1976 Montreal Games.

    Achieving the feat once more is a daunting, but manageable, challenge for the Gallic hosts, who have performed well in global handball tournaments since the Tokyo Olympics in 2021.

    The women’s team have recently had the edge over the country expected to be their fiercest rivals in August, Norway.

    The feisty Norwegians beat France at the 2021 world championship final, took home bronze in Tokyo and Rio, and won Olympic gold in 2008 and 2012.

    Les Francaises, however, had the upper hand in last December’s world championship final in the Danish city of Herning, claiming the title for the third time with a 31-28 victory.

    Scandinavian opposition in the shape of Denmark is also the main threat to the French men landing a fourth Olympic title in five Games in Lille on Aug. 11.

    The Danes will be looking to top the podium again after winning gold in Rio in 2016 but leaving Tokyo with silver having narrowly lost to the French.

    Denmark, spearheaded by three-times world player of the year Mikkel Hansen and last year’s winner of the award Mathias Gidsel, won a third straight world title by beating France in the final in Stockholm last year.

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    EXTRA EDGE

    France also have a three-times world player of the year in centre back Nikola Karabatic, however, and they claimed a fourth European title by edging Denmark 33-31 in the final in Cologne in January.

    To add an extra edge to the Franco-Danish rivalry, 40-year-old Karabatic and left back Hansen, 36, are retiring after the Games and will be desperate for a gold to cap off their careers.

    They know each other well having played together at club level for Paris Saint Germain and while Karabatic has won more medals, there is a question mark over whether he will be able to trounce the younger Hansen at this last tangle in Paris.

    A high drama face-off on July 27 will give a clue, as France and Denmark meet in their opening preliminary round match in Paris.

    Much beloved in mainland Europe, but a minor sport pretty much everywhere else, handball made its Olympic debut in Berlin in 1936 but had to wait 36 years to win a permanent place in the programme in Munich in 1972.

    Women’s handball was first contested four years later in Montreal and the Soviet Union claimed the first two titles before Yugoslavia, South Korea (twice) and Denmark (three times) ruled the court at the ensuing Games.

    Russia, who remained strong and beat France to win gold in 2016 before losing to the French in the Tokyo final, will be absent from this year’s tournament because of sanctions put in place after the invasion of Ukraine.

    (Reporting by America Hernandez in Paris; Editing by Ken Ferris)

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