American Handball Teams Announced For Olympics
ATLANTA (AP) _ Team handball, a sport that has virtually no following in the United States, enjoyed a rare moment in the spotlight Tuesday with a Hollywood-style ceremony to announce the members of the American Olympic teams.
As a statue of Sylvester Stallone hovered from the ceiling of the Planet Hollywood restaurant in downtown Atlanta, the 16 men and 16 women who will represent the United States at the Games this summer paraded through a gauntlet of family of supporters as their names were called.
``This summer, the other countries better beware,″ said Rick Oleksyk, coach of the men’s team. ``We’re in business.″
More likely, though, Oleksyk was caught up in the emotion of the moment. The United States has never won a handball medal and the Atlanta Games aren’t expected to be any different, at least for the men.
``I think the women have a realistic chance to win a medal,″ said Dennis Berkholtz, who played for the U.S. team at the 1972 Munich Games and was a prime force behind the decision by the national handball federation to shift its headquarters to Atlanta two years ago.
Berkholtz pointed out that eight members of the women’s team played at the Barcelona Games four years ago, and four of them also played in 1988 at Seoul.
``They have a lot of experience at the highest level,″ he said. ``It takes six years to become a good handball player, intelligently and physically. We’re pinning our hopes on the women.″
As for the men, they did not qualify for the 1992 Olympics and are building their program from the ground up.
``In my opinion, the men are going to have trouble winning any games,″ Berkholtz said. ``What we have to do as a federation is step back and try to be the best in the world in eight years. You just can’t take players and make them Olympic-caliber winning athletes in two years. That’s where our men’s program is.″
Still, the thrill of playing in the Olympics was overwhelming for many of the athletes, who are among the last of the true amateurs taking part in the Games. Some wept openly, and others looked toward the ceiling in a moment of prayer as they stood atop a podium, taking in the applause of several hundred people.
``U.S.A! U.S.A!″ the crowd chanted over and over as the players joined in.
Team handball, often confused in this country with handball, is like an indoor version of soccer and basketball, with 11-player teams trying to throw a ball into a net. It is highly popular in Europe.
Among those making the U.S. teams were a pair of siblings. Twins Toni and Tami Jameson of St. Paul, Minn., will be teammates on the women’s squad, while Thomas and Joseph Fitzgerald of North Babylon, N.Y., will compete for the men.
Four years ago, Tami Jameson competed in Barcelona, but her sister failed to make the team.
``It was very hard,″ Toni said. ``I wanted to go there and be with her.″
One player with a familiar name failed to make the men’s team. Chris Havlicek, son of Boston Celtic great John Havlicek, will be one of the eight alternates.