Handball at the Olympics: A Historical Overview

Written By Robert

Handball isn’t just a sport; it’s a showcase of human ability and the power of teamwork. 

Handball, with its lightning-fast action, relentless tactics, and nail-biting finishes, is a spectator favourite. This dynamic sport’s journey through the years, especially in the realm of the Olympics, is a captivating tale. Join us as we explore the fascinating history of the handball Olympics, capturing the evolution of the sport, its memorable moments, and the stars who have left an indelible mark.

Handball: A Brief Introduction

Handball is a fast-paced sport involving two teams of seven players each – six outfield players and a goalkeeper. The objective is to throw the ball into the opposition’s goal, using intricate tactics, skill, and brute force. A handball game is split into two halves of 30 minutes each, making it an intense and engrossing affair.

Handball Olympics: Early Days

The history of handball in the Olympics began with its first appearance at the 1936 Berlin Olympics as an outdoor sport, with eleven players on each side. However, handball was dropped after this tournament and didn’t return to the Olympics for several decades.

It wasn’t until the 1972 Munich Olympics that handball made its comeback, but this time, as an indoor sport with teams of seven. Since then, it has been a regular feature of the Summer Olympics. The first Olympic indoor handball tournament saw Yugoslavia clinching gold in the men’s competition, while the Soviet Union triumphed in the women’s contest.

The Introduction of Women’s Handball

Women’s handball was introduced to the Olympic program at the 1976 Montreal Olympics, four years after the men’s debut. The Soviet Union’s women’s team won the inaugural tournament, signalling the beginning of their domination in the sport.

Dominant Nations in Handball Olympics

Several countries have stamped their authority on the sport over the years. In the men’s category, Yugoslavia, Russia, and France have been the most successful, with a total of five, four, and three gold medals, respectively, as of 2021.

The women’s competition has been dominated by the Soviet Union and Norway. The Soviet Union won four golds before its dissolution, while Norway, with their technical and tactical supremacy, has been a powerhouse since the late 2000s, securing three golds as of 2021.

Memorable Handball Olympic Moments

The history of the handball Olympics is filled with unforgettable moments:

  1. The 1972 Debut: The reintroduction of handball at the Munich Olympics in 1972 was a watershed moment. The indoor variant of the game proved more exciting, drawing a larger audience and cementing handball’s place in the Olympics.
  2. Denmark’s Double Victory in 2016: The 2016 Rio Olympics saw Denmark creating history by winning both the men’s and women’s tournaments. This was Denmark’s first gold in men’s handball and a moment of double delight for the country.
  3. Norway’s Dominance: Norway’s women’s team has been a force to reckon with. Their victory at the 2008 Beijing Olympics marked the beginning of a golden era, as they successfully defended their title in 2012 and won bronze in 2016 and 2020.

Star Players in the History of Handball Olympics

The Olympic handball tournaments have given rise to several legends of the game.

  1. Heidi Løke (Norway): A stalwart of Norway’s golden generation, Løke has been a formidable presence on the court. With her incredible skill and tenacity, she’s helped Norway secure several Olympic medals.
  2. Jackson Richardson (France): A key player in France’s successful run in the late ’90s and early 2000s, Richardson’s leadership and skill have earned him a special place in handball history.
  3. Maja Savic (Montenegro): A dynamic player with an enviable scoring ability, Savic led Montenegro to their first-ever Olympic medal in women’s handball at the 2012 London Olympics.


From its humble beginnings as an outdoor sport in the 1936 Olympics to its current status as a popular indoor event, handball has evolved significantly. The history of the handball Olympics is a testament to the sport’s growth and the thrilling spectacle it offers. As we look forward to future tournaments, we can only anticipate more riveting contests, legendary performances, and unforgettable moments in this exciting sport.

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