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U.S. Women Finish Last

August 1, 1996

ATLANTA (AP) _ All the optimism. All the victories in smaller, less important events. All washed away by a flood of Olympic losses for the U.S. women’s handball team.

A 24-23 loss to Angola on Thursday left the United States winless and in last place in the eight-team Olympic field. The Americans lost three straight in pool play to superior European teams before falling to Angola in the seventh-place consolation game.

``The hard work we put in for 2 1/2 years got us close to a win, but didn’t pay off in the end,″ U.S. coach Claes Hellgren said. ``The girls are a little sad right now, but that’s the story of sport. Someone wins and someone loses.″

While the U.S. team pondered its losses, the medal matches were set.

Denmark beat Norway 23-19 to reach the gold-medal game against the winner of Thursday night’s semifinal between defending champion South Korea and Hungary. China faced Germany for fifth place.

Hellgren, a Swede, came to the United States to give a European touch to the U.S. national team, and a training center opened in the Atlanta area. That has led to an influx of young teens playing team handball in Cobb County.

With a gold medal in last year’s Pan American Games and the natural boost a team playing on its home ground can expect gave U.S. handball players and officials hope of success in the Atlanta Games. It just didn’t work that way.

``Claes did everything to prepare us, but we just didn’t perform,″ said Dannette Leininger, who scored four goals in the final game. ``The next few years are critical to the sport. We have to keep the interest going in this area. But I think the future is very encouraging.″

The largest deficit by either team was two goals, with the Americans leading 13-11 with 27 minutes left. But Angola (1-3) took a 24-22 edge with 1:50 left on a goal by Maria Joaquim.

The United States (0-4) got within one on Sharon Cain’s eighth goal, with 51 seconds left.

U.S. goalie Laurie Fellner made a save with 10 seconds left, but lost several seconds retrieving the rebound. By the time Laura Coenen got the ball downcourt, she had little chance with a 30-foot shot in the final second.

``There was a little bit of a foul at the end, but that didn’t lose the game for us,″ Hellgren said. ``That didn’t lose the game for us. There are so many calls in a game that one doesn’t matter.″

Chryssandra Hires joined Leininger with four goals for the United States. Palmira de Almeida scored six goals and Luzia Maria Bezerra had five for Angola.

``I feel bad for the girls who worked so hard to not come away with a win,″ Hellgren said. ``But they can be proud of their effort.″

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