What to Know About Olympic Handball - NBC Bay Area
2016 Rio Olympic Games

2016 Rio Olympic Games

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What to Know About Olympic Handball

Get ready for Olympic handball at the Rio Games

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    Lucas Candido of Brazil in action during a match between United States and Brazil on June 15, 2016, in Villa Martelli, Argentina.

    Ahead of the Rio Olympics, handball is breaking out of its traditional European base and becoming a truly global sport.

    The men's game has never seen an Olympic or world champion from outside Europe, but a controversial Qatari team is hot on the heels of 2012 gold medalist France, while the Brazilian women's team could put on a strong showing at home.

    MEDAL FAVORITES: Despite handball's momentum outside its European heartland, traditional powers remain strong. The French men are widely considered to be among the best teams in history, though it suffered a setback with a fifth-place finish at January's European championship, which Germany won. Norway's women arrive as world, Olympic and European champions.

    BEST MATCHUPS: There's a big game on the opening day, Aug. 6, as Norway's women take on host nation Brazil, the 2013 world champion. The Brazilians and their Danish coach Morten Soubak will be hoping the passionate home crowd can cancel out recent poor form after they lost all three games at a friendly tournament in Norway in March, including a 32-26 defeat to the then-host. Three days, later France's men play Qatar in a repeat of last year's world championship final, which France won 25-22. Another mouthwatering matchup on August 2012 sees Norway's women face Montenegro in a repeat of the 2012 Olympic gold medal game.

    POTENTIAL RECORD SETTERS: In 2012, France became the first men's team to successfully defend its Olympic title. In Rio, winning a third gold medal in a row would be an achievement to stand for decades to come. Norway's women were also Olympic champions at the last two games, and a third title would match the record set by the Danish team which won gold in 1996, 2000 and 2004.

    CONTROVERSIAL CHALLENGERS: The small but wealthy Middle Eastern nation of Qatar's transformation into an Olympic medal contender has raised more than a few eyebrows. The stars of the Qatari team mostly aren't local boys made good, they're experienced Europeans attracted in part by the riches on offer. At the 2015 world championship, Qatar's team featured players born in Spain, France and even Cuba, with veteran goalkeeper Danijel Saric having previously played for both Serbia and Bosnia's national team. Qatari officials say they're just doing what the rules allow; their opponents grumble it's not a true national team.

    THE VENUE: At the Olympic Park on Jacarepagua lake, handball's home is the innovative Future Arena. It's an attempt to give the Rio Olympics a tangible legacy, since after the games this temporary venue will be dismantled and its parts used to build four schools. It was completed in November after having avoided the delays that have dogged other Rio Olympic arenas.