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Great Britain's Handball team steps up to the mark.
The Olympic Games in London starts in 100 days, and the national handball teams are ready to show Great Britain what handball are.
The 39-year-old Jesper Holmris started coaching Great Britain's women handball team in 2008, and is now focusing on the 2012 London Olympics this summer.
The Dane started to coach the team, with a bit of luck as he was coaching the Danish league club Århus and therefore trained next to the Great Britain’s players, but with great enthusiasm in 2008 after hearing the word Olympics.
Holmris: ”I took the job because the players were so motivated, the project was ambitious and because the target was the Olympics.
“The Olympics is something that drags everyone into it, including me.”
Back in 2005 London was nominated to host the 2012 Olympics, it was not just a matter of hosting the big event, but also performing in every sport hosted.
In 2006, UK Sport decided to start up the exciting project of Great Britain's first national handball team.
Kelsi Fairbrother was one of the first three to join the GB women´s national team in 2006 and she is now one of the best players on the team.
Fairbrother: “This is the first British handball squad to go to any Olympics and it has been pretty intense for most of us.”
In 2007, GB hosted a real 'Great Britain's Got Talent', looking for great sports people to attend the Olympics. Around 5000 people turned up for the audition, and the women´s handball team ended up with 120 girls going for the trials.
UK Sport made an agreement with the Danish sports college, Århus Højskole, to have the entire Great Britain handball team, both men and women, to live and to play in Denmark. A few of the girls turned down this opportunity because they wouldn’t leave family behind or they were too young to drop out of school.
They ended up with 12 women players living and playing full-time handball in Denmark. The first ever national match was played in 2007 and a few more games followed that year.
Holmris: “The reason why UK Sport made an agreement in Denmark in the first place was because Denmark has one of the best handball leagues in the world and it would be natural to play in a country where everybody loves to play and watch the sport.”
When Holmris became national coach in 2008 he came up with the idea to find English citizen or half-English citizens in other countries, who had any background with playing handball.
He soon discovered more talented handball girls, with either a mum or dad being British. They also discovered that some of the great women basketball players, rugby players and netball players were great at handball, and head hunted some of them.
They continued establishing the handball squad and the team got to play a few games against smaller countries in 2008. They also managed to win two games against Estonia and The Faroe Islands.
But in 2009 when the great money depression started, UK Sport had to cut back on the funding for the handball project. Most players went on to different countries. Some of them managed to get a contract in Denmark like Fairbrother, and others moved to Norway, Germany and Italy.
Fairbrother: “I never dreamt that I would be given an opportunity to play in such a good league, but I have and I feel right at home. That is the best way I can describe it.
“The people of Denmark love handball as much as I do, and to play something you love as a full-time job is a great feeling.”
Since April last year, eighteen girls have settled at a British training base at Crystal Palace in South London. With the exception of three players, who are playing at a club team level, that is the entire team. One of them is Fairbrother who plays for the Danish team; Esbjerg.
Fairbrother: “I was offered a contract with Esbjerg; one of the top teams, in the best league in the world for women. So I felt that it could only be positive for me and my national team to stay and train and play at such high standards every day.”
Holmris admits that Fairbrother is a success story and hopes she is not the last one.
“Kelsi (Fairbrother) is a special case. She went from nothing, to playing in the best league in the world in only four years.
“If we could find Kelsi and turn her into such a success, there are many other British handball players out there we could find and make part of our team.”
The rest of the girls at Crystal Palace train twice a day and the Danish head Coach are pleased with the agreement.
“The facilities we have down here are fantastic. We often get to play in the Olympics arena, because they are testing the event for the upcoming Olympics.”
But London 2012 is not all they are training for, the team are looking forward to events following the Olympics, and are hoping to continue their development.
Holmris: “We will not achieve much in 2012, at most perhaps a quarter-final, but hopefully we will be playing at the 2016 Olympics where we should be able to make ourselves noticed.
“If you look at what we have gained in just four years it's incredible. We started from nothing. I think it is impressive how much we have achieved. Think about how good we could be in another four to eight years!”
The British Handball Association, the players and the handball fans are all hoping that handball will grow to become one of the great sports in the UK. But before this can happen, the facilities must be improved and the UK needs more coaches and referees to obtain this.
“Looking back at France, one of the greatest handball nations, they did not have any handball 15-20 years ago,” explains Holmris. He is hoping to see the same development in Great Britain.
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