Danes have a long familiarity with the sport of indoor handball – in fact a countryman published the first official rules – but it took until 2016 for the Danish men’s national team to capture an Olympic gold, on the final day of the Rio de Janeiro events. The women’s team didn’t make the medal podium this time, but won gold in three consecutive Olympics starting in 1996.
Handball matches are not for viewers of nervous disposition! Play is very fast-moving and a team’s dominance can vanish in little more than a few blinks of the eye. The ball is like a hot potato, with holding time limited to 3 seconds, and any player receiving a repeat warning from the referee must leave the court for an achingly slow 2 minutes.
Although the sport might have been played for eons, it became very popular in Scandinavia and Germany late in the 19th century. This prompted a Danish gym teacher, Holger Nielsen, to clarify and publish official game rules in 1906. Nielsen himself had a track record of athletic skill, including Olympic medals in saber fencing and in shooting, but by the time handball made the Olympian roster in 1936, he was better suited to watching – at almost 70 years old.