Handball anecdote from 1996

In 1996, I was in Croatia on vacation after spending about six months living in Luxembourg. There were not a lot of American tourists at that time as hostilities between Serbia (Yugoslavia) and Croatia had only been over for about a year (Wikipedia link – use at your own risk). IFOR troops were still in the region, bridges were destroyed, land mines were still prevalent, and damage along the coast could still be seen. However, a Croatian friend in Luxembourg invited me to travel with him and his family, so I did.

Zagreb, 1996

I first went to Zagreb and was given his brother-in-law’s parent’s apartment in a Soviet style housing block call Mamutica (mammoth), seen in the background of the photo above. While Zagreb was not damaged by the war, the people there were definitely impacted over the years. The basketball goal is worn out, but not war damaged.

While I was in Zagreb, the 1996 Atlanta Summer were in full swing. One night, I was walking to dinner at some food court near Mamutica. As I was walking I swore I heard gunfire and even something that sounded like a small rocket. It freaked me out a lot. I couldn’t imagine war had broken out, yet I know what gunfire sounds like and this was definitely gunfire. I made it unharmed to the restaurant, and saw that Croatia and Sweden were playing in the Men’s Handball Olympic finals, and Croatia had won. People were probably celebrating by firing their guns. I never was able to explain what the small rocket sound was, but I was safe. It is a memory that will always stick with me, because realistically I knew war wasn’t breaking out again, and no one else seemed particularly concerned, yet I couldn’t deny what I was hearing.

I continued on to the Dalmatian coast and had a great trip. An interesting side note is the only way to get from Zagreb to cities on the coast was via a pontoon bridge, as the regular bridge had been destroyed with explosives.

I hung out in Murter for some days, and then island hopped from there, eventually making my way to Dubrovnik before heading back somehow (I have no recollection of leaving Croatia).

Alley, Stari Grad, Island of Hvar, 1996


Plaza, Dubrovnik, 1996

Sport spotlight – Handball

We have tickets to a Men’s Handball preliminary session (two matches). What’s handball? It’s different than the sport of knocking a ball against a wall with your hand that some of us played when we were kids.

What exactly IS handball then? According to the USA Handball webpage

[team] handball is a fast-paced team game that was first played in Scandinavia and Germany at the end of the 19th century. Two teams of seven players (six field players and one goalkeeper) pass a ball using their hands with the aim of throwing it into the goal of the other team. A standard match consists of two periods of 30 minutes, and the team that scores more goals wins.

In the United States, the sport is commonly referred to as team handball. It is often described as combining elements of sport like basketball, water polo, soccer and ice hockey. Men’s handball was first played at the 1936 Olympics Games in Berlin as an outdoor sport. At the 1972 Summer Olympics in Munich, handball was an indoor sport and it has been an indoor sport on the Olympic program ever since. Women’s team handball was added at the 1976 Summer Olympics.

For this Olympics, there will be two group of six teams. In each group, every team plays each other, and the top four advance to a single elimination tournament. The NBC Olympics website provides more links.

For an introductory video, USA Team Handball gives us this video.


On the men’s side, Japan has qualified for the competition by virtue of being the host country. Denmark has qualified by winning the 2019 World Championship, Spain by winning the 2020 European Championship, Egypt as the 2020 African Champion, Bahrain by winning the Asia Handball Federation Men’s Asian qualification event, and Argentina by winning the 2019 Pan American Games.

The final 6 spots will be filled by taking the top two out of each of three 2020 Olympic Qualification Tournaments, with the tournaments held in Norway, France, and Germany. These tournaments will be held 17 to 19 April, 2020. The selection of teams participating is complicated, so feel free to check out this Wikipedia page for more detail on the men’s qualification,

On the women’s side, again Japan is automatically qualified as the host country. The remaining qualifiers are France, Brazil, South Korea, Angola, and the Netherlands. The qualifying tournaments will be held in Spain, Hungary, and Montenegro on March 20 through 22.

 Please visit this Wikipedia page for more information on the women’s qualification.

Unfortunately, the US did not qualify, nor will they have an opportunity to play their way in.

The matches will be held at Yoyogi National Stadium, an iconic structure on the edge of Yoyogi Park. It was built for aquatics and basketball for the Tokyo 1964 Olympics.