Handball

Weekend Roundup (December, 17th): French handball’s sovereignty

The 2017 calendar year started with France beating Norway for the men’s World handball Championship title and destiny would have it that both nations would square off again 11 months later at the same stage of the women’s tournament. However, while the outcome was the same, the odds were radically different, with the Norwegians, clear underdogs last January in Paris, holding the cards in Hamburg after rampaging through the knockout stages of the tournament held in Germany since December 1st.

Reigning European and World Champions, the Norwegian ladies have dominated the women’s game for the last few seasons on the back of a lightning-fast attack, and as they demolished Olympic Champions Russia (34-17) in the quarter-finals and the Netherlands (32-23) in the semi-finals, they couldn’t spurn the favouritism ahead of Sunday’s clash in a sold-out Barclaycard Arena. Still, France, silver medallists at the 2016 Olympics, were widely regarded as the best defence in the world and that would make all the difference in the Final.

France’s Béatrice Edwige (#24) controls Norway’s Stine Oftedal (#10) and Nora Mørk (#9) during the 2017 Women’s World Championship Final (Getty Images)

Not in the first 15 minutes, though, which Norway doubled with a 7-4 lead as the French struggled to put together good offensive plays, but from there onwards, with the length and athleticism that form the core of Les Bleus’ backline stifling Norway’s attempts to break through. Anchored by All-World goaltender Amandine Leynaud, who stopped a pair of 7m shots, the French rallied to take the lead at half time (11-10) despite suffering a series of 2m suspensions, and then emerged after the break to capitalize on their opponent’s frustration, born out of a putrid performance from their own goalkeepers  – Kari Aalvik Grimsbø and Katrine Lunde, who both stopped more than 40% of shots until the Final, combined for 4/26 (15%) in the decider – and an inability to activate Tournament MVP and creative force Stine Oftedal.

Inside 37 minutes, France led 15-12, but then Norway’s veteran pivot Heidi Løke and influential shooters Nora Mørk – the tournament top goalscorer (66 goals) – and Veronica Kristiansen surged to re-establish the balance and heighten the tensions inside the arena. The score read 20-20 entering the last five minutes, a time when heroes were called to action, and Allison Pineau, the 2009 World Handball Player, answered the bell like she had done in similar circumstances against Sweden in the semi-final. Scoring twice to give France a crucial two-goal cushion late, Pineau joined stalwarts Béatrice Edwige and Camille Ayglon as they limited the Scandinavians to a single reply by Kristiansen, and it wasn’t long before Alexandra Lacrabère drilled the nail in Norway’s coffin with 20 seconds left on the clock.

Amandine Leynaud reacts after the last save of the World Championship Final against Norway (ihf.info)

With the surprising 23-21 win, France collected the second World Championship title of their history (five finals), avenging the loss to Norway in 2011 and succeeding the side that beat Hungary in Zagreb 2003 under the guidance of the same national coach, Olivier Krumbholz, while Norway were left to wait two more years for a fourth World crown.

In the third-place game, the Netherlands brushed aside Sweden (24-21, 14-8 at HT) despite going through a 15-min goalless spell in the second half. A recent powerhouse in women’s handball, this was a second consecutive World Championship medal for the Dutch, beaten by Norway in the 2015 Final, while Sweden achieved their best ever result as they had never finished better than sixth.

Alpine skiing:  The return of Anna Veith

For Austrian Anna Veith (née Fenninger), the last couple of years have been a nightmare, with knee injuries and multiple surgeries wiping major parts of the two seasons that followed her overall World Cup titles in 2014 and 2015. The 2014 Super-G Olympic Champion reappeared on the World Tour earlier this month in Lake Louise, and after a string of cautious performances, found her stride in Val d’Isére on Sunday to pick up a World Cup victory for the 15th time on her career and first since March 2015.

A delighted Anna Veith celebrates her first World Cup victory after more than 2 years of injury setbacks (PHILIPPE DESMAZES / AFP-PHOTO)

Second off the blocks, the 28-year-old’s left knee held up on a furious Super-G descent in the French resort and Veith was thus able to stand, clearly emotional, on the top of the podium, with runner-up Tina Weirather, who clocked 0.48 seconds more, and third-place finisher Sofia Goggia (Italy) by her side. Skiing with a broken hand suffered after a nasty fall on Saturday, this was also an extraordinary result for the 28-year-old Weirather, the reigning Super-G World Cup Champion, while Goggia was similarly thrilled for a second podium on the 2017-18 season and on the French snow, since she was only beaten by Lindsey Vonn on Saturday’s rescheduled Super-G.

Moreover, Norway’s Ragnhild Mowinckel ranked third on Vonn’s record-extending 78th World Cup victory to claim a first career top-three finish, while the stop in Val D’Isère proved harmful for Viktoria Rebensburg’s hopes in the general classification. With Mikaela Shiffrin absent, the German could only gather 36 pts from her seventh place on Saturday before crashing out on Sunday and, consequently, the American star still leads the overall table by a comfortable 109 pts, with Weirather lagging a further 38 pts ahead of Tuesday’s giant slalom in Courchevel.

At the same time the women raced in France, the men started a trek through several Northern Italy ski resorts. In Val Gardena, on Friday, 28-year-old Josef Ferstl claimed his maiden World Cup win on a Super-G affected by difficult weather conditions, namely a thick fog that interrupted the race after competitor number 38. The German, whose previous career-best was a fifth place in 2016, edged Austrian’s Max Franz and Matthias Meyer by 0.02 and 0.1 seconds, respectively, but things would get back to normal over the weekend with the favourites emerging to the top of the standings.

Germany’s Josef Ferstl in action during his maiden Super-G victory in Val Gardena (AFP – Tiziana FABI)

Such was the case on Saturday’s Downhill, dominated by Norwegians Aksel Lund Svindal and Kjetil Janrud, first and second ahead of Max Franz in Val Gardena, and on Sunday’s giant-slalom, contested in nearby Alta Badia and conquered for the fifth consecutive season by six-time crystal globe winner Marcel Hirscher.

A massive 1.70 seconds adrift, Norwegian prodigy Henrik Kristoffersen finished second for the fourth time this season – and the third behind Hirscher – while Slovenian Žan Kranjec made a podium appearance for the first time on his career. On the men’s overall classification, things are rather tight at this time, with Hirscher and Svindal sharing the lead with 374 points, and Kristoffersen (365) and Jansrud (329) on the hunt.

Biathlon: Johannes Thingnes Bø and Martin Fourcade escalate their duel in Le Grand Bornand

For the first time since 2013, the Biathlon World Cup made a stop in France, home of the men’s preeminent competitor of this decade, six-time overall Champion Martin Fourcade, however the 29-year-old had to fend off stiff competition from rival Johannes Thingnes Bø to celebrate in front of his fans in Annecy – Le Grand Bornand.

A fresh-faced 20-year-old back in 2013, Johannes Thingnes Bø picked up his first career World Cup wins in this very course, and two clean-shooting performances ensured that he would repeat the success in the sprint and pursuit competitions in 2017, thwarting Fourcade in consecutive days to reach a streak of four consecutive victories on the current season. For the home hero, a perfect shooting record was not enough on Friday, with the Norwegian out-skiing Fourcade by 21.1 seconds, and extending the gap with an extra 40 seconds on the next day’s pursuit after the French misfired twice.

Johannes Thingnes Bø skis towards victory on the Pursuit against the backdrop of Le Grand Bornand (biathlonworld.com)

Fourcade’s teammate, Antonin Guigonnat completed the sprint top-three for a first career podium finish, with Anton Shipulin joining Bø and Fourcade after the pursuit event, yet the script was eventually flipped on Sunday when Martin Fourcade finally delivered a win in the 15km Mass Start to the delight of the partisan crowd. With Johannes Thingnes Bø delayed by two early prone penalties, the Perpignan-native controlled the race, eschewed the competition just before the final visit to the shooting gallery, and then completed a mistake-free day to ski away towards victory, French flag in hand.

Making up ground throughout, his Norwegian foe was still able to finish second in the Mass Start, ahead of German Erik Lesser, and that means Fourcade and Bø go into the holiday break separated by only 20 pts (432-412) and far above anyone else.

French superstar Martin Fourcade leads the pack during the Mass Start event (biathlonworld.com)

Conversely, the women’s tour has been positively chaotic this season, with the yellow bib now resting on the body of a fifth different woman. Slovakian veteran Anastasiya Kuzmina had won the pursuit in Hochfilzen, her first success in three years, and with the triumph on the opening 7.5 km Sprint in Le Grand Bornand took the lead from Kaisa Mäkäräinen, yet she wouldn’t be able to repeat a clean-shooting performance on the pursuit, picking up four penalties as defending World Cup Champion Laura Dahlmeier, second on the sprint, took advantage to secure her first trophy of the season. Lisa Vitozzi, the 22-year-old Italian, climbed a spot from her sprint position to complete the pursuit podium, and off were the ladies for Sunday’s Mass Start which, like the men’s race, would provide ample fodder for celebration amongst the hosts.

Brimming with unpredictability, the 12.5km epilogue looked about to be clinched by German Denise Herrmann, but the former cross-country skier cratered on the last shooting position by failing to drop three of five targets, and opened the door for 22-year-old Justine Braisaz, whose clean performance was rewarded with a first career victory in front of her compatriots. Unheralded Belarussian Iryna Kryuko also fired to perfection and secured a first career podium, while Laura Dahlmeier made it three podiums out of three in Le Grand Bornand to amass valuable points as she navigates her way up the overall standings.

Justine Braisaz savours her first World Cup victory in Annecy-Le Grand Bornand on Sunday (biathlonworld.com)

Kuzmina, fourth in the Mass Start, will wear the yellow bib on January 4th, when the biathlon World Cup returns in Oberhof (Germany), even if Justine Braisaz (6 pts behind), Kaisa Mäkäräinen (21) and Denise Herrmann (26) are all in excellent position to upstage her after the break.

Ski jumping: Richard Freitag pads his overall lead in Engelberg

In inspired form since he grabbed the yellow bib in Nizhny Tagil, German Richard Freitag enjoyed another weekend of great success in Engelberg to distance his main rivals on the race for the ski jumping overall World Cup title.

In Central Switzerland, the 26-year-old came within a tenth of a point from sweeping the two individual events on the schedule as his second-place finish on Saturday was followed by a comprehensive triumph on Sunday’s competition, where Freitag compiled the best totals of both rounds (141.3 and 145.1) to leave Poland’s Kamil Stoch and Austria’s Stefan Kraft almost 12 pts behind. It was a fifth consecutive World Cup podium for the German and it didn’t double as a fourth win in five races simply because, 24 hours earlier, Norway’s Anders Fannemel benefitted from more favourable conditions during his first round attempt (133 m; 128.7 pts) to forge a lead that resisted Freitag’s 129m final jump by the shortest of margins (253.6 to 253.5 pts).

Richard Freitag soars through the sky of Engelberg and towards victory in the Ski Jumping World Cup event (dpa)

Double Olympic Champion Kamil Stoch locked third place on that occasion (250.8 pts), showing he’s rounding into form just in time for the defence of his Four Hills Tournament crown, however Freitag will undoubtedly be the man to beat when the World Tour reconvenes in Oberstdorf on the 30th of December to kick off this season’s edition of the iconic competition. With 7 of 23 individual events contested so far, Freitag’s 550 pts lead the overall race with compatriot Andreas Wellinger maintaining second place (399 pts) after back-to-back sixth positions in Engelberg, and Norwegian Daniel André Tande slotting third with 356 points.

On the women’s World Cup, history was made with the completion of a first ever team event on Saturday. Hinterzarten, a village in Germany’s Black Forest, played host to Japan’s victory, with Yuki Ito, Kaori Iwabuchi, Yuka Seto and Sara Takanashi edging the teams from France and Russia as favourites Germany were held back by Svenja Wuerth’s crash in the first round, and would later crown Norwegian Maren Lundby as the winner of the individual competition ahead of local favourite Katharina Althaus and defending World Cup Champion Sara Takanashi. With the victory, Lundby caught Althaus on the overall classification, both women accumulating 360 pts after 4 events.

The Japanese team (Sara Takanashi, Kaori Iwabuchi, Yuka Seto and Yuki Ito, L-R) that won the inaugural team event in women’s Ski Jumping World Cup history (KYODO)

Football: Inter Milan picks up first defeat of the season

Entering round 17, Inter Milan were the only team yet to taste defeat in the Serie A to merit top of the league honours, yet that would end on Saturday afternoon as Udinese stormed into San Siro to shellshock Luciano Spalleti’s side.

It was still lunch time when Lasagna was served by Kevin in the 14th minute, and while Mauro Icardi responded almost instantaneously, the prolific striker couldn’t do the same in the second half, with Rodrigo de Paul and Antonin Barak burying the leaders and the 1-3 scoreline meaning that the Nerazzurri would return first-place to Napoli, who rode a fast start and three goals inside thirty minutes to claim victory in Torino (1-3). Keeping the three-goal mantra, Juventus passed comfortably in Bologna (0-3) to also leapfrog Inter, while Roma got within two points of the former leaders when center-back Federico Fazio nodded home a 94th minute winner against Cagliari (1-0) at the Stadio Olimpico.

Losing ground for the second consecutive week, Lazio drew 3-3 in Bergamo against Atalanta to fall five points back of their city rivals, whereas AC Milan confirmed the jolt provided by Gennaro Gattuso’s appointment has already evaporated. Facing a Hellas Verona they had swiftly beaten 3-0 in mid-week Italian Cup action, the Rossoneri got handed back a similar score to deepen their (on-field) problems.

Bundesliga

The last round of matches before a month-long winter break was once again positive for Bayern Munich, whose 0-1 victory in Stuttgart, courtesy of Thomas Muller’s goal, helped extend their lead to 11 pts. It’s true that the Bavarian giants felt a pinch of fear before Sven Ulreich saved a penalty in stoppage time, but they soon forgot the scare when the rest of the weekend’s results started falling their way, beginning with Schalke 04’s 2-2 draw in Frankfurt.

Truth be told, it could have been even worst for the visitors if not for another late rally, with Breel Embolo and Naldo – once again in the 95th minute – salvaging a point that served them well after RB Leipzig incredibly wasted an 82-minute man-advantage, at home, to Hertha Berlin (2-3).

On a four-game winless streak, last year’s runner-up were caught at 28 pts by Borussia Moenchengladbach, who beat Hamburg by 3-1 on Friday, Bayer Levekusen, challenged by Hannover to a goal-filled 4-4 draw, and Borussia Dortmund, who followed their breakthrough victory mid-week with a second win under new coach Peter Stoger.

And while American Christian Pulisic notched BVB’s game-winner in the 89th minute to defeat Hoffenheim (2-1) at the Signal Iduna Park, the most relevant goal of the weekend belonged to another Christian, FC Köln’s Clemens, since it would secure his team a first victory of the campaign (1-0 vs Wolfsburg) after just three draws in the initial 16 matches of 2017-18.

Ligue 1

Fresh off dumping Olympique Marseille out of the League Cup, sixth-place Stade Rennais may have entertained thoughts of troubling the mighty Paris St. Germain, but they soon understood there’s not a lot any defence can do when the MCN (Mbappé-Cavani-Neymar) is on a good day. PSG’s stars, especially an irrepressible Neymar, crafted two goals inside 17 minutes, added two more after Firmin Mubele discounted, and left Rennes with a 4-1 victory that pushes their goal-scoring average to over 3 goals per game….

The Parisians are, undoubtedly, having fun on their journey to recapture the French title but, this week, Monaco found a way to match their output after right back Djibril Sidibé opened the scoring at St. Etiénne in the third minute and the home team unravelled. With the 1-4 loss, Les Verts, winless since October 14th, continue their free-fall on the Ligue 1 table, while the defending Champions kept pace with Olympique Lyon, who overcame Marseille (2-0) in the main clash of round 18. In a battle of teams riding opposing trends, the plunging Bordeaux lost in Nice (1-0) after Mario Balotelli fired Les Aiglons to a fourth consecutive victory and possession of sixth-place, the top of a congested zone that sees 7th (Rennes) and 18th (Lille) separated by just 8 pts.

La Liga

When FC Barcelona steps into the Santiago Bernabéu next Saturday to contest the first “El Clásico” of 2017-18, they’ll do so with the backing of a fluffy 11-point gap that shifts all the pressure into the hosts’ corner. In the same week their heart rivals picked up the 2017 FIFA Club World Cup in the UAE, the Catalans obtained a straightforward 4-0 triumph over Deportivo La Coruña – the goals divided equally by Paulinho and Luis Suárez – to reach win 13 in 16 games and increase, by a point, the advantage over the second place, now owned by Atlético Madrid.

In customary manner, Atleti did just enough to eke out a win in round 16, with Fernando Torres scoring the lone tally against Alavés at the Wanda Metropoliano, and the capital side profited from Valencia’s second consecutive thud away from the Mestalla to climb a step. At Eibar, Los Che succumbed 2-1 to drop to third, eight points from the top, and Real Madrid can match their 34 points when they play their deferred appointment with Leganés. Moreover, fifth-place Sevilla, embarrassed by the defending Champions in the previous round, stuttered at home to Levante (0-0) to lose a chance of closing on the top-four.

Premier League

The Tottenham Hotspur of Mauricio Pochettino are no ordinary football team, but that was very much what they looked like as Man City steamrolled another opponent to add success No. 16 of their remarkable win streak. The conclusive 4-1 score established the huge gap between the voracious machine engineered by Pep Guardiola and one of its supposed challengers, now stuck an incredible 21 points behind, however it’s time we recognize that City’s chasers haven’t necessarily performed badly even if they’re a mile away from the top.

For instance, Manchester United collected another hard-fought victory, the 13th in 18 games, at the Hawthorns, holding off a determined West Bromwich (1-2), while Chelsea have won six of the last eight following a 1-0 triumph over Southampton secured by Marcos Alonso’s free kick from distance. Eleven and 14 points, respectively, separate these two from Man City, and round 18 also delivered victories for the next tier, as Arsenal beat Newcastle (1-0) by virtue of a Mesut Özil left-foot volley, and Liverpool hammered Bournemouth (0-4) to return to the right path after a couple of draws.

Meanwhile, at the bottom of the table, Crystal Palace, who started the season with 7 consecutive defeats, went to Leicester, pulled out a 3-0 victory, and left the relegation zone for the first time this season.

Moment of the week

We skimmed past it in this roundup since the competition is stacked towards the most powerful sides and, really, not that interesting, nonetheless a World title is a World title and the Cup-clinching goal something to remember.

In Real Madrid’s victory over South American Champions Grêmio at the FIFA Club World Cup final, the difference was a throwback goal from 2017 Ballon D’Or winner Cristiano Ronaldo, and as a powerful free kick that nicked through the defensive wall to break the deadlock, it holds definitive merits worthy of inclusion here.

Advertisements

Seven indelible sports moments in 2016

Another year has just ended and, as happened in 2015, I decided to look back on the most memorable sports moments we were able to witness in the last twelve months, an exercise of paramount importance in order to cherish and vindicate the hundreds of hours that were left behind on the road to placate this passion.

As you certainly noticed, 2016 was an Olympic year and the action in Rio de Janeiro was front and centre on the summer news, yet in this article I’ll only reflect on the other memories that stuck out, encompassing monumental upsets and comebacks, titanic clashes, extraordinary team and individual achievements and brilliant performances. Therefore, seven moments were selected and recollected as I tried to provide some background on what was at stake, recap the events as they happened, and point out their importance in the context of the respective sport.

As usual, keep in mind the inherent subjectivity of this list, tremendously affected by my own predilections, knowledge and desire to supplement as much diversity as possible, from the amount of sports referenced to the type of realization celebrated, but without venturing into areas I don’t comprehend (I’m sorry, Chicago Cubs fans).

Before diving in, let me stress out again that no Olympic moment was considered in this article as I’ll reminisce on them and the Rio Games as a whole in a few days. Come back later for that.

Leicester City wins the English Premier League

By now you’ve seen the number: 5000-to-1, the odds assigned by an English bookmaker to a potential Premier League triumph by Leicester City in 2015-16, the quantitative assertion of one of the greatest upsets in sports’ history and a beacon for every team hoping to break the established hierarchies.

Jamie Vardy (#9) and Riyad Mahrez (#26) celebrate another crucial goal for Leicester City's Premier League title campaign.

Jamie Vardy (#9) and Riyad Mahrez (#26) celebrate another crucial goal for Leicester City’s Premier League title campaign.

The Foxes barely staved off relegation in 2014-15 and the appointment of Italian journeyman coach Claudio Ranieri, whose career was stacked with near misses, was far from inspiring, yet a strong start of the season, capped by four consecutive wins from fixtures 10 to 13th, surprisingly propelled Leicester to the top of the League at the end of November.  It was still early and around the corner loomed a demanding segment of the calendar, consequently many expected things to fall into place, however that didn’t happen.

Starting with a home draw against Manchester United in the game that allowed Jamie Vardy to beat the record for scoring in consecutive matches, passing through a crucial 1-0 victory at White Hart Laine over Tottenham, and ending with a superb triumph at Manchester City in early February, Leicester turned from surprise bunch to full-fledged title contender by standing ground against every Premier League heavyweight (except Arsenal), leaving unscathed and, more importantly, in the lead.

Later, when Leicester racked up four straight 1-0 wins in March, it started to sink on everyone that they would really complete the miracle, with the celebrations exploding on May 2nd as pursuers Tottenham Hotspurs blew a two goal-lead at Chelsea in matchday 36.

Dilly Ding, Dilly Dong. Ranieri’s boys and their fairy-tale adventure had just reached its epic conclusion and time had come to revel in their party and laud its main characters. Kasper Schmeichel, the Danish goalie whose saves kept the Foxes together in so many occasions. The Captain Wes Morgan and partner Robert Huth, the unflinching central duo patrolling the defence. Danny Drinkwater and the indefatigable N’Golo Kanté, always pacing the midfield. Riyad Mahrez, the creative fulcrum with a magical left foot. Jamie Vardy, the late-blooming spearhead whose 24 goals validated Leicester’s blistering counter-attacking style. We owe them all a story to remember for years to come.

LeBron James wills the Cleveland Cavaliers into the Promised Land

When LeBron James decided to take his talents to South Beach back in 2010, few would have predicted how his story would unfold to culminate on the night of June 19, 2016. The local prodigy turned hero turned villain turned saviour returned home in 2014 tugging two rings on his fingers and a promise to finally bring a Championship to Northern Ohio, yet you would be hard pressed to find a better script converting a dream into reality.

For the second consecutive year, the Golden State Warriors and the Cleveland Cavaliers faced off in the NBA Final and once again the frontrunners were the Californians, coming off an historic 73-win regular season. Steph Curry and his band crafted a 3-1 lead just like had happened in 2015, but the turning point came late in Game 4, when Draymond Green, the Warriors do-it-all centre, punched James in the nuts. The NBA couldn’t turn a blind eye and Green was suspended for game 5, a potential clincher where LeBron and Cavaliers’ point guard Kyrie Irving banked 41 points each to extend the series. Despite the return of Green, the Warriors were flustered in Game 6 back in Cleveland and the stage was set for an epic Game 7 at the Oracle Arena, probably the loudest atmosphere in the League.

Cleveland's Kyrie Irving rises above Steph Curry to hit the go-ahead 3-pointer in Game 7

Cleveland’s Kyrie Irving rises above Steph Curry to hit the go-ahead 3-pointer in Game 7

As lead changes abounded throughout the match, the sides remained tied at 89 in the closing minutes before a series of devastating events unfurled, moments that will be forever etched in Cavaliers’ history as “The block”, “The Shot” and “The Stop”. First, a thunderous chase down block by James on Andre Iguodala avoided a layup that would give a 91-89 advantage to the Warriors. Then, Irving danced in front of Curry before launching an incredible go-ahead three-pointer for the visitors. A few seconds later, the oft-criticized Kevin Love locked down Curry, the unanimous regular season MVP, on the perimeter to preserve the vital lead. A free-throw by James with 10.6 seconds to go would set the final score at 93-89 and complete the first comeback from 3-1 down in the history of the NBA Finals.

Fifty-two years had passed since the last major professional sports title for the city of Cleveland and LeBron James’ emotional words in the end summed up the dramatic feat: “Cleveland, this is for you”.

With that, the prodigal son, the Kid from Akron, was finally a legend to his people and the city that had adopted him was no longer the laughingstock of American sports.

Novak Djokovic finally conquers Roland Garros to complete the Career Grand Slam

On my list of top sports moments of 2015, Novak Djokovic’s performance at Roland Garros made an appearance as the Serbian wasted a golden opportunity to knock off the major missing piece on his résumé and I wondered whether he would have as good a chance again. It turned out the answer was positive, since the 29-year-old redeemed himself in 2016 to become the eight man to complete the career Grand Slam and, in the process, established a milestone for modern tennis.

This year’s edition of the French Major – already missing Roger Federer – lost its all-time winningest player early, since Rafael Nadal withdrew before the third round, and that occurrence flung open the door for Djokovic, who waltzed to a fourth Roland Garros Final appearance by dropping a single set in six matches. Meanwhile, on the other side of the draw, Andy Murray had to overcome two five-setters in the first week before grinding past home-favourite Richard Gasquet (QF) and defending champion Stan Wawrinka (SF), clocking five more hours on court than his rival.

A blissful Novak Djokovic's finally lifts the winners' trophy at Roland Garros

A blissful Novak Djokovic finally lifts the winners’ trophy at Roland Garros

Nonetheless, the dream contest between World No.1 and World No.2 was arranged and it was Murray who came out guns blazing, snatching the first 6-3 due to an imposing serve and consistent strokes off both wings. The Scot had never beaten Djokovic after losing the inaugural set, and he came close to taking a grip on the match in the first game of the second, yet the Serbian held serve and managed to turn the tide by breaking Murray right after, forging a momentum he would not relinquish. With his forehand dominating the rallies and exhibiting an air-tight defence, Djokovic cruised through the second and third sets, winning 6-1, 6-2, and later broke Murray twice in the fourth to close on the trophy.

With the crowd on his side, hoping to glimpse history, and serving at 5-2, the 11-time Grand Slam Champion was engulfed by the nerves, eventually conceding a break, but he managed to pull through the intolerable tension of the moment, clinching the match after Murray plopped a ball to the net on the third Championship point.

Nole had finally secured Roland Garros to complete his Grand Slam set and, more importantly, guarantee a place on a list none of his contemporaries has been able to crack. Already the reigning Champion at Wimbledon (2015), the US Open (2015) and the Australian Open (2016), Djokovic joined Don Budge (1937-38) and Rod Laver (1962/1969) as the only three men to hold the four tennis Grand Slams at the same time, further implanting his name in the history books.

Back in June, Djokovic still dreamed of completing the calendar Grand Slam, but it wasn’t meant to be. Maybe he will find his way back here in 2017 after unlocking yet another of tennis’ ultimate accomplishments.

Kielce snatches Handball’s Champions League title after astonishing comeback

Pitting two sides gunning for a maiden EHF Champions League title, the 2015-16 Final of handball’s premier club competition provided a thrilling, dramatic finish that won’t be forgotten by the 20,000 fans who watched inside Cologne’s LANXESS Arena.

The finalists, Poland’s Vive Tauron Kielce and Hungary’s Veszprém KC, had upset French Champions PSG and three-time Champions League Winners THW Kiel, respectively, in the semi-finals to set up an unanticipated showdown, and both sides made good on the opportunity.

The Magyars began better, jumping quickly to a 3-0 lead which they governed through the first 30 minutes to reach the half in command (17-13). A smothering defence, Aron Palmarsson’s prowess from afar and the vibrant support of their fans then powered Veszprém to a nine-goal advantage (28-19) with just 14 minutes to play, prompting the first winning chants to break as the game seemed decided.

Based on the presence in this list, evidently it was not and what followed was a sensational comeback by the Polish Champions, who were led by goaltender Slawomir Szmal, star right winger Tobias Reichmann and the masterful play of Uroš Zorman. In just 10 minutes, the gap was erased as Vesprém crumbled piece by piece with Kielce’s resurgent, and the bleeding could only be stopped at 28-28, when veteran Momir Ilić netted the 29th goal for the Hungarians before Michał Jurecki desperation shot beat the buzzer to force overtime.

In extra-time, the two opponents traded leads until the roles reversed on the dying seconds, with Vesprém’s Cristian Ugalde tying the game at 35 apiece and setting up the first penalty shootout in an EHF Champions League Final.

Kielce’s Ivan Cupic was the first to miss from the 7m mark, but the Polish goalkeeping duo of Slawomir Szmal and Marin Sego saved one each to allow Julen Aguinagalde a chance to end the stalemate. The Spanish pivot hammered home and the yellow portion of the stands erupted as Kielce became the first Polish side to be crowned European Champions just minutes after appearing on the ropes.

As for Veszprém, also previously defeated on the final in 2002 and 2015, a lesson was learned in the most traumatic way possible. Their pursuit of continental glory will have to continue in spite of this nightmare-inducing collapse.

Vive Tauron Kielce, the 2016 EHF Champions League winners

Mathew Hayman edges past Tom Boonen to wrestle the Paris-Roubaix

The “Hell of the North” and its tough, perilous journey of 250+ kilometres through deteriorated, slippery cobble roads has always been a race prone to surprises due to his unpredictable nature, yet few victories were as unexpected as Mathew Hayman’s.

The 37-year-old had already endured the arduous expedition from start to finish for 14 times on his career, closing on the top-ten in 2010, however his preparation for the 2016 edition was less than ideal. After breaking his left arm at the Omloop Het Nieuwsblad six weeks earlier, Hayman was forced to build his form on a stationary bike in his garage, but he eventually felt fine come the day and convinced Orica Bike-Exchange’s management to confirm his name on the final roster.

An exhasperated Tom Boonen looks down as Matt Hayman rises after crossing the finish line

An exhasperated Tom Boonen looks down as Mat Hayman rises after crossing the finish line

Hayman immediately rewarded his director’s fate by jumping into the early breakaway, and the Australian would cling to the front for the rest of the evening while the usual havoc decimated the field of candidates further back, hampering pre-race favourites Peter Sagan and Fabian Cancellara, both caught in the maelstrom of crashes and mechanical problems.

Ultimately, in the end at the Roubaix velodrome, five men were in contention and the odds seemed to be stacked towards Tom Boonen, the four-time Champion and a renowned finisher. However, sensing the opportunity of a lifetime, Hayman bravely surged forward to lead out the sprint with 200m to go and stunningly managed to hold off Boonen, looking in disbelief as he crossed the line to seize the biggest triumph of his career.

The dependable domestique lifted the iconic cobblestone trophy on the podium and on his right side stood, applauding, a legend of Roubaix, the man he had just pipped to deny a record-breaking fifth triumph. It doesn’t get much sweeter than that.

Auston Matthews’rewrites the NHL’s history books on his debut

Unlike every other moment evoked on this list, Auston Matthews’ magical night didn’t come with a trophy, a title or a championship on the line. Nevertheless, it is undoubtedly one of the best debuts in the history of any professional competition and the kind of performance people will talk for years to come, thus it’s not out of place.

After honing his talents in Europe during the 2014-15 season, Auston Matthews was selected last June by the Toronto Maple Leafs with the first pick on the 2016 NHL draft, immediately receiving the brunt of attention at the hockey-mad Canadian city. Toronto’s new season kicked off in Ottawa on October 12th and naturally Matthews was in the lineup, yet not even the most optimistic fan could predict such a remarkable performance.

With eight minutes played in the first period, Matthews took advantage of deficient coverage in front of the net to score his first NHL goal on his first shot, and moments later he turned the ice into his own backdoor pond, eluding five Ottawa Senators – including all-star defenseman Erik Karlsson – in succession before firing the puck short side for a magnificent goal.

Auston Matthews shoves the puck past Craig Anderson for the fourth goal of his incredible NHL debut

Auston Matthews shoves the puck past Craig Anderson for the fourth goal of his incredible NHL debut

Twenty minutes in, it was already a night to remember but the American wunderkind wasn’t yet satisfied, adding a third goal on a quick shot from the slot early on the second period. By this time, his parents were already freaking out in the stands, since the young American was just the fourth rookie to notch a hat-trick on his first NHL game, but the cherry on top was still to be served.

With just a few seconds to go before the final intermission, a 2-on-1 rush for the Leafs developed quickly and culminated on a tap-in for the inevitable Matthews and his fourth tally of the night, something no player in the centenary history of the NHL had ever achieved on his debut. Moreover, to put that in perspective, the third leading goal-scorer in NHL history, Jaromír Jágr, has compiled 756 goals in 1668 games, yet boasts the same number of four-goal outings as Matthews…

Toronto would still lose the game in overtime, however that’s just a footnote on a surreal, extraordinary night that put the entire ice hockey world on notice for a 19-year-old phenomenon improbably raised on the sun-kissed state of Arizona, USA.

Portugal slays the ghosts of the past to win the Euro 2016

Did you really think this one wouldn’t make an appearance? I can’t risk having my lone citizenship removed, so let’s go back to the night of July 10th 2016.

The place is the Stade de France, located in the outskirts of Paris, and duelling for the Henry Delaunay trophy are two countries which have had their fair share of battles in the late stages of international competitions. The Euro 1984, also contested in France. The Euro 2000. The 2006 World Cup. In all those occasions, the French came out on top to advance to the final while the Portuguese were left to lick their wounds despite deserving better luck.

Furthermore, comparing the respective runs until the decisive match, it was fair to assume a similar outcome was in the cards, as the hosts were over the moon after bouncing out reigning World Champions Germany, whereas Portugal counted its blessings for making it this far in spite of an all-around tentative campaign.

However, as they say, anything can happen in a single match and the main trump card – some fella named Cristiano Ronaldo – resided on Portugal’s bundle. Until it didn’t, as the three-time Ballon D’Or winner was knocked out by a Dimitri Payet tackle, and later forced to abandon the field just past the midway mark of the first half.

The ball shot by Éder (center, in red) is already on his way to the back of the net

The ball shot by Éder (center, in red) is already on its way to the back of the net

With their captain out, the Portuguese receded further into their underdog role and the minutes went by according to a relatively simple script: France’s attacks were systematically repelled by Portugal’s staunch defence and in the few instances they managed to break through goalkeeper Rui Patrício dealt with it. Meanwhile, when the pressure subsided, the Portuguese moved the ball around, tried to buy a mistake and hoped for a lucky bounce.

They would get one just before regulation ended when André-Pierre Gignac hit the post from close range, and eventually the visitors decided to open things up in extra-time to take advantage of fatigue and an opponent growing frustrated. Hence, substitute Éder almost scored on a header and left back Raphaël Guerreiro shook the post on a free kick before the deadlock was broken in the 109th minute.

Portugal’s Éder picked up a pass, entered the final third, fended off center back Laurent Koscielny and pounced on the ball like his life depended on it to drill a low shot past the outstretched Hugo Lloris, instantaneously sending an entire nation into raptures and revamping the clumsy striker into a god-like figure.

Fifteen minutes later (or fifteen hours, depending to whom you ask), the final whistle was blown and Portugal were confirmed as the Champions of Europe, securing their first major title twelve years after letting the honour escape, at home, on the Final of the Euro 2004. It was certainly fitting they could atone for it in similar yet reversed circumstances.

European Tour of Sports – Croatia

The Basics

Population: 4.3 M

Area: 56 594 km2

Capital: Zagreb

Summer Olympic Medals: 23 (6 G-7 S-10 B)

Winter Olympic Medals: 11 (4 G-6 S-1 B)

 

Popular sports and History

One of the states that achieved independence during the desegregation of the Republic of Yugoslavia, some Croatian national teams even preceded the declaration of liberation (June 1991) for a few months, playing under their country’s flag since 1990. The Croatian Olympic Committee, though, was only founded in September of 1991 and a few weeks later the athletes were already marching in Albertville, France – on the opening ceremony of 1992 Winter Olympics – draped in red and white. Since then, for a country of four million inhabitants, Croatia has amassed an impressive collection of Olympic honours, but we’ll start our journey with a sport that hasn’t been able to compete on that iconic stage.

Despite crashing out of every Olympic qualification, football is Croatia’s most popular game and the national team, the Vatreni (“The Blazers”), have made up for it on other major events. Building on several members of the country’s Golden Generation, which had previously helped Yugoslavia to the Under-20 World Cup triumph in 1987, Croatian football reached its highest point in the 1998 World Cup, finishing in third place carried by the goals of Davor Šuker, the tournament’s top goal scorer, and the sumptuous play of the likes of Zvonimir Boban, the former AC Milan Maestro, or FC Barcelona and Real Madrid alumni Robert Prosinečki.

The Croatian squad that finished third in the 1998 World Cup

Two years before, in the 1996 European Championship, the talented squad had been ousted in the quarter-finals but Croatia’s competence hasn’t dwindled with the pass of times, since a rejuvenated group reached the same stage of the 2008 Euros. Croatia has qualified for every major tournament since 1996, except for the 2000 European Championship and the 2010 World Cup, and a new breakthrough is just around the corner for a nation that regularly churns out players destined for the continent’s top outfits.

However, at the club level, the window of success is way more limited. Dinamo Zagreb, the perennial Champions, have conquered 11 Croatian titles in a row (and 18 in total), yet have only appeared in the Champions’ League group stages in five occasions, bowing out early. Winners of the 1966-67 Inter-Cities Fairs Cup (finalists in 1963), the only European Cup conquered by a Croatian club, Dinamo dominance is only disputed by their eternal rivals, the six-time national Champions Hajduk Split. A club founded by a group of displaced students on a tavern in Prague (Czech Republic), Hajduk can hang over their foes the unmatched presence on the quarter-finals of the UEFA Champions League in 1994-95, where they were defeated by eventual Champions Ajax Amsterdam. NK Osijek and HNK Rijeka are the two other clubs that have never been relegated from Croatia’s top division, the Prva HNL, while NK Zagreb was the Champion of Croatia in 2001-2002, the only title that eluded both Dinamo and Hajduk.

Croatia has a penchant for strong efforts in team sports and football isn’t even remotely the most notable model. Take the example of the men’s national handball team, one of the finest in the World. Twice Olympic champions, in 1996 and 2004, bronze medallists in London 2012 and World Champions in 2003, the Croats are a feared power that contends for every major competition, having been defeated in the finals of 1995, 2005 and 2009 World Championships (the last one held at home), and at the 2008 and 2010 European Championship. CB Ivano Balić, the IHF World Player of the Year in 2003 and 2006, P Igor Vori, RW Mirza Džomba or GK Venio Losert were leading names on those squads and are renowned legends of the sport. Coincidentally, the women’s national team has qualified for most international tournaments organized since 1994, but is yet to reach the semi-finals and challenge for a medal.

Croatia’s Ivano Balić, for many the greatest handball player of all-time

Every edition (1992-2016) of the Croatian Handball League (plus 23 of 25 National Cups) has been secured by RK Zagreb and the club has extended the supremacy to the European stage on occasion, playing six EHF Champions League finals and winning twice, consecutively in 1992 and 1993. However, in the Yugoslavian days, the dominant force was another, RK Bjelovar, European Champions in 1972 and finalists the following season. On the women’s side, Rukometni Klub (RK) Podravka Koprivnica almost replicates the male’s panorama, having obtained the Championship in every season since 1993 save for 2003-2004. Their own European crown was achieved in 1996, a year after losing the competition’s final.

Just like their compatriots, the Croatian basketball team also boasts a decorated history, permeated with international laurels. A few months after independence, Croatia stunned the world by getting to the final of the 1992 Barcelona Olympics, where USA’s “Dream Team” was on another stratosphere, but that achievement wasn’t a fluke, as Croatia placed third on the 1993 and 1995 EuroBasket and also left with the bronze medal of the 1994 FIBA World Championship. Three-time NBA Champion Toni Kukoč, one of the first foreign players to succeed in the NBA, was an integral part of those squads, but unfortunately the same cannot be said of the late Dražen Petrović, the outstanding sharp-shooting guard that died tragically in a car accident in June 1993, at age 28, right at the peak of his career.

Dražen Petrović (red) takes on Michael Jordan during the 1992 Olympic Final between Croatia and the USA

Croatia’s results on major competitions suffered since the end of the 90’s, as the country only appeared in one the last four Olympics (2008) – before qualifying for Rio de Janeiro – and missed the 1998, 2002 and 2006 World Championships, with the only remarkable performance in the last two decades being the 4th place in the 2013 EuroBasket. The Women’s national representation qualified for the Olympics for the first time in 2012.

The heyday of Croatia’s basketball teams in Europe naturally overlapped the nation’s best talents, with five Euroleague Championships traveling to the country in less than a decade.  Košarkaški Klub (KK) Split triumphed in 1989, 1990 and 1991 with a team led by Toni Kukoč and Dino Rađa, while the KK Cibona Zagreb of Dražen Petrović snatched the trophy in 1985 and 1986, adding also the FIBA European Cup Winner’s Cup in 1982 and 1987. Cibona has a record 18 Croatian Championships but its supremacy has been challenged recently by KK Cedevita Zagreb, who won three of the last four national titles and four of five National Cups.

Completing the quartet of sports where Croatia is a prominent European nation is water polo, with the national team, nicknamed Barakude (“The Barracudas”), amassing a plethora of honours in recent years. At the top of the heap is the Gold medal conquered at the 2012 Olympic Games, but the group also came home with victory in the 2007 FINA World Championships and the 2010 European Championships, to which should be added the World League title in 2012. Croatia lost the final in this competition in 2009 and 2015, and was also runner-up in the 1996 Olympics, 2015 Worlds, and 1999 and 2003 Euros, placing third in the 2009, 2011 and 2013 Worlds. Uff…

The Croatian Water Polo National Team that won the Olympic Gold Medal in 2012

Meanwhile, at the club level, the résumé is no less impressive, with Croatian outfits collecting a total of 13 LEN EuroLeague Championships, seven of those courtesy of HAVK Mladost (in 1968, 1969, 1970, 1972, 1990, 1991 and 1996), the Zagreb-based team that was named the sport’s Best Club of the 20th century. Mladost also boasts ten Croatian titles, a number bested by Dubrovnik’s VK Jug, a twelve-time National Champion and four-time European Champion (1981, 2001, 2006 and 2016). VK Jadran, from Split, was twice European Champion in 1992 and 1993.

Far away from the importance of the four team sports described above but still worthy of a mention are futsal, volleyball and ice hockey. The Croatian Futsal Team is an emerging squad in the European scene, having qualified for the last three continental Championships and finishing fourth in 2012, on the event the country organized. They’ve only qualified for the World Cup once, in 2000, reaching the second round of the tournament held in Guatemala.

The men’s volleyball team never took part on the World League, World Championships or Olympic Games, but was the runner up on the 2006 and 2013 European League, while the women’s crew appeared on the 2000 Olympics and competed in the final of 1995, 1997 and 1999 European Championships. However, the clubs have achieved bigger heights, with HAOK Mladost Zagreb contesting the final of the CEV Champions League three times apiece on the men’s and women’s side, with the ladies winning in 1991. Moreover, OK Dubrovnik secured the women’s competition in 1998.

As for ice hockey, the game is chiefly popular in the interior regions of the country despite the national team being an afterthought at the continental level. Medveščak Zagreb won the Yugoslav Hockey League three consecutive times from 1988 to 1990, but is best known for his current involvement on the Kontinental Hockey League (KHL), the 2nd best hockey league in the World, allowing fans to watch regularly some top-level players.

Blanka Vlašić, one of Croatia’s most influencial athletes in this century

Three of the six Olympic titles achieved by Croatia on the Summer Olympics came from their team representations,  but there’s no doubt the country has also been blessed with great talents in individual competitions. One of the most recognizable faces is track-and-field star Blanka Vlašić, who excelled as the best high-jumper in the World from 2007 to 2011, winning, among others, two World Championships (2007 and 2009) and an Olympic silver medal (2008). With a personal best of 2.08m that falls just 1 cm short of the World Record, the IAAF 2010 World Athlete of the Year has seen her career hampered by injuries since 2012, as her star has been slightly overshadowed by Sandra Perković, the 2012 discus throw Olympic Champion.

Meanwhile, tennis is another sport where the country has regularly produced top players, which has contributed to three Olympic bronze medals. Goran Ivanišević collected two in Barcelona 1992, in singles and doubles (with Goran Prpić), but is main accomplishment is being the only person to win the men’s singles title at Wimbledon (2001) as a wildcard. He was also a member of the 2005 Davis Cup winning squad, even if the campaign was primarily built on the back of former World Number 3 Ivan Ljubičić and Mario Ančić, a pair that also medalled on the double’s event of the 2004 Olympics. On the women’s side, Iva Majoli triumphed at Roland Garros in 1997. Today, the country’s tennis legacy is shored up primarily by 2014 US Open Champion Marin Čilić.

Goran Ivanišević with the 2001 Wimbledon men’s singles trophy

At this point in the journey, we’ll make a brief interlude to celebrate some of the paramount athletes born in what is now Croatian soil but was for much of the 20th century part of Yugoslavia. Their feats are a bit concealed since they were obtained under another flag, but the Croatian people still revere those athletes as their own. Hailed as the Croatian sportsman of the 20th century, boxer Mate Parlov was an Olympic gold medallist in 1981, and a European and World Champion both as an amateur and a professional, while Matija Ljubek won four medals total between the 1976 and 1984 Olympics as a sprint canoeist, to which he added ten podiums in the World Championships. The case of Đurđica Bjedov is even more special, as she is the only Yugoslav Olympic champion in swimming, finishing first on the 100m breaststroke in 1968.

Table Tennis player Zoran Primorac is still representing Croatia at age 47!

Later, with a career that bridged the gap between Yugoslavia and the years after the independence, pops out the name of table tennis player Zoran Primorac, a 1988 men’s doubles silver medallist with a career that spans more than two decades (1986 to 2007) of podiums in international competitions. Primorac’s success came on the heels of the magisterial career of “the golden left hand of Croatian sport”, Antun “Tova” Stipančić, who won 27 international medals, 11 from World Championships and 16 from European Championships.

As for weightlifter Nikolaj Pešalov, he competed for Bulgaria and Croatia and added plenty of silverware for both nations’ mantle in various categories. An Olympic Champion in 2000, just a few months after obtaining the Croatian nationality, he also won silver in 2004, thus matching the number of Olympic honours he offered to the country of his birth during the 1992 and 1996 editions.

The portfolio of sports that have contributed to the 23 medals gathered in just six editions of the Summer Olympics is inspiring and demonstrates the versatility of a country that proudly boasts world-class athletes in sports such as rowing, taekwondo, swimming, sailing, wrestling and shooting, the most recent addition to the golden bliss with Giovanni Cernogoraz’s Olympic title in London.

Notwithstanding the extension of this chapter, it would be a major oversight to wrap up without touching on the country’s success at the Winter Olympic, which is almost entirely grounded on the work of the Kostelić family. In 11 medals, all but one was credited to Ivica Kostelić and his little sister, the legendary Janica Kostelić.

Former Alpine Skier Janica Kostelić holds the four medals collected at the 2002 Winter Olympics

A three time overall World Cup winner, Janica is the most successful female alpine ski racer in the history of the Winter Olympic Games, since she’s the only woman to amass four gold medals in total, and three in a single edition, taking the slalom, giant slalom and combined events of the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympics.  Forced to retire in 2007 (at age 25) due to injuries, her adaptability resulted in a total of 30 victories in World Cup races, six Olympic medals, five World Championships medals, and the distinction as one of the handful of athletes to win World Cup events in all of the sport’s five disciplines.

As for Ivica Kostelić, a four-time Olympic silver medallist encompassing the editions of 2006, 2010 and 2014, he was the overall World Cup winner in 2011, and at age 36 is still racing. The eleventh Croatian medal in the Winter Olympics belongs to biathlete Jakov Fak, who conquered it in the Men’s sprint of the 2010 Vancouver Games just a few months before deciding to start competing for Slovenia.

Star Athletes

Josip Pavić (Water Polo)

In 1992, with Croatia’s independence still fresh in the memory of the population, VK Jadran Split won its first ever Champions League title, sending an entire city into a frenzy and remodelling the dreams of a generation of kids. One of those children was a 10-year-old Josip Pavić, whose allegiances moved on from football in a pinch, and the future has certified the choice of the former Hajduk Split novice. A “lean and lanky” boy with long arms, he was quickly put in front of the pool-stationed goal and climbed the youth ranks to debut on the senior squad as a 17-year-old.  Five years later, with an economics degree in the pocket, he left his hometown to join HAVK Mladost looking to consolidate his place on Croatia’s national team.

Josip Pavić celebrates Croatia’s triumph in the 2012 Water Polo Olympic tournament

His breakthrough performance came in the 2005 World Championships, where he was deemed the competition’s best goalkeeper, and for the more than a decade Pavić has been the mainstay for Croatia through thick and thin. The highs of the 2007 World title or the 2010 European success secured in front of a boisterous Zagreb audience, and the lows of a disappointing quarter-final defeat to rivals Montenegro in the 2008 Olympics. And, obviously, the enthralling experience of becoming an Olympic Champion in London 2012, where Pavić’s performance merited the 2012 FINA Water Polo Player of the Year award.

Yet, a few months after touching the sky, the Split-native was caught on a miserable situation: Mladost, the sport’s most heralded club, neared bankruptcy following the main sponsor’s loss and the whole team played virtually for free for more than a year. Even with his personal accolades, and despite conquering a single national championship in 10 years, Pavić stuck with the club until his contract expired in the summer of 2015, when he joined Olympiacos, the perpetual Greek Champions. The 34-year-old finally padded his trophy case with the national double, but the elusive Champions League sceptre was snatched in the final by his former foes of VK Jug, who conquered the first European Cup for a Croatian club in 10 years.

The charismatic 195 cm goalie is still hoping to achieve at the club level the some degree of success obtained for Croatia’s national team, but he won’t disregard the recognition he recently got news off: Josip Pavić will be Croatia’s flagbearer at the Rio de Janeiro opening ceremony.

Sandra Perković (Athletics)

The four-time Croatian sportswoman of the year (2012-2015) is just 26 years old but you wouldn’t have noticed it looking at the résumé of the Zagreb-native, a precocious winner on a discipline, the discus throw, that calls for a polished physical and technical development that takes years to master. A star in the making since the youth international meetings, Perković first major senior event were the 2009 World Championships, where the 19-year-old arrived as the youngest in the entire field. Already the Croatian national record-holder with 62.44 m, she finished in ninth and set the stage for what would happen a year later.

After pinning the world-leading mark of 66.85m earlier in the season, Perković became the youngest European Champion ever in the event at Barcelona, and only a doping suspension put the rails on her upwards trajectory since then. In 2011, she tested positive for a psychostimulant present in an American-made energy drink, and was slapped with a six-month ban, yet Perković rebounded to have a marvellous 2012 season. She surpassed the 68 meters mark, retained her European crown and threw 69.11m in London to become the first Croatian track and field athlete to guarantee an Olympic gold medal.

Discus Thrower Sandra Perković fires up the crowd during the London Olympic Games

Already at the top of her discipline, she conquered her maiden World Championships in 2013 and added a third and fourth European titles in 2014 and 2016, as she’s now just the third female athlete in history to win four back-to-back European titles. Perković personal best stands currently at 71.08 m (Zurich, 2014) and it isn’t impossible she can threat the Olympic record of 72.30 (Martina Hellmann, 1988) or even the World landmark of 76.80 (Gabriele Reinsch, 1988), two results under suspicion because of East Germany’s veiled sports methods.

The Croat icon, who’s also a member of the national parliament following the 2015 general elections, will reach the Rio de Janeiro Olympics hoping to reclaim global supremacy, having being toppled at the 2015 World Championships by Cuba’s Denia Caballero.

Domagoj Duvnjak (Handball)

The center back position is absolutely crucial on a successful handball side, essentially defining every move on attack and occupying the heart of the defensive scheme, and Croatia has been especially blessed since the turn of the century. Ivano Balić was a maestro unlike any other – being considered by many the best player in the history of the sport – but the man filling his shoes is also exceptional.

Domagoj Duvnjak was born in Đakovo in 1988 on a family of handballers, and he soon accompanied his father, the coach of RK Dakovo, to work, debuting for the senior squad at age 16. Two years later, Duvnjak was already the Croatian league’s best scorer and heavyweights RK Zagreb snapped the youngster towards the capital city, where he would win three League titles and three National Cups. Meanwhile, Duvnjak was taken under the wing of Balić on the national squad, having debuted in 2007 and been part of the roster for the 2008 European Championships, where Croatia placed second.

Domagoj Duvnjak is the leader of Croatia’s handball national team

In 2009, the 21-year-old signed for Handball-Bundesliga’s outfit HSV Hamburg for a transfer fee of €1.1 million, becoming the most expensive handball player in history, and he’s been an elite performer in Europe’s top-league since then, being awarded the player of the season award in 2013. At Hamburg, Duvnjak won the Champions League in 2013, the German Cup in 2010 and the Bundesliga in 2011, breaking the supremacy of giants THW Kiel, the club he would join in 2014 and eventually lead to the title in his first season.

For Croatia, Duvnjak assumed the reigns after the 2012 Olympics – where the country conquered a bronze medal on Balić’s farewell – and his central role on the 2013 World Championships would prove decisive to reach the summit of the sport. A member of the tournament’s All-Star Team despite Croatia’s third place, Duvnjak capped an MVP-worthy season for Hamburg by willing the club to his maiden Champions League title, which sealed his nomination as the 2013 IHF World Player of the Year.

A tenacious 1.97m mastermind with outstanding agility, flair, pace and offensive versatility, Domagoj Duvnjak is one of handball’s premium players, and someone whose career is only missing an international title with his country after many close calls. At age 28, there’s still time to tackle that void, maybe this summer at Rio de Janeiro.

Other Athletes: Luka Modrić, Ivan Perišić (Football), Ivica Kostelić (Alpine Skiing), Marin Čilić (Tennis), Blanka Vlašić (Athletics), Andrea Penezić (Handball), Bojan Bogdanović (Basketball), Filip Ude, Marijo Možnik (Gymnastics), Giovanni Cernogoraz,  Snježana Pejčić (shooting), Šime Fantela, Igor Marenić (Sailing), Lucija Zaninović and Ana Zaninović (Taekwondo), Valent Sinković /Martin Sinković (Rowing)

Venues

Despite the proliferation around Europe of brand-new national stadiums, infrastructures capable of handling all the organizational requirements (television, media/press capacity, security, VIP boxes, accessibilities, roofed seating) necessary to host events in this era, Croatia is yet to advance decisively for a substitute to the Stadion Maksimir, the long-time home of Dinamo Zagreb and the national football team.

Opened in 1912, the Maksimir – a place that also shares deep political connotations with Croatia’s struggle for independence – has undergone multiple makeovers over the decades, assuming his current layout in 1998, when the capacity for football was set at around 38,000. Long before that, one of the semi-finals and the third place match of the 1976 European Championship was held there, as also happened with the 1987 Summer Universiade, which isn’t exactly a glittering list of internationally relevant sports events for such an antique venue. But I’m sure Dinamo Zagreb fans will reminisce about countless title celebrations when the building eventually gets replaced…

An overview of the Stadion Poljud in Split

Moving on to Split, the 35,000-seats Stadion Poljud is a much more interesting setting, starting by his seashell-like design with roofed stands that allows for excellent views of the surroundings. Erected in 1979 for the Mediterranean Games, the original capacity was reduced with the introduction of seats but didn’t obscure its inherent beauty and ambience. Equipped with a tartan track, the home of football’s Hajduk Split welcomed the 1990 European Athletics Championships and the 2010 IAAF Continental Cup, as well as some matches of the national team.

The only other Croat stadium than can hold over 20,000 is the Stadion Gradski vrt in Osijek. The building’s construction started in 1949, but works were stopped several times and the stadium was only opened in 1980. Renovated and repaired twice since then, it is the home of NK Osijek and occasionally receives the national team, making use of the total capacity of 22,050, from which 19220 can be seated.

Croatia’s stadiums may be generally old and patched up, but the country’s indoor sports arenas are at a superior level, with several venues being added in the last few years, mainly due to the organization of international handball tournaments. The crown piece is the Arena Zagreb, constructed to be the main venue of the 2009 World Men’s Handball Championship. Resembling a giant rib cage, it is part of a large shopping-entertainment complex, being used for diverse sports and also hosting concerts, exhibitions, conventions and fairs.

The Arena Zagreb from the outside, a landmark of Croatia’s capital city since 2008

Opened in December 2008, the Arena can accommodate up to 15,200 for handball/ ice hockey and 16 500 for basketball. The main tenants are handballs’s RK Zagreb and Medveščak of the Kontinental Hockey League, but competitions like the 2012 UEFA Futsal Championship, the 2015 Eurobasket or the 2013 European Fencing Championships have been held there to complement regular EHF Champions League and EuroLeague (basketball) matches.

Also opened in 2008 for the same reason, the Spaladium Arena is Split’s main sports hall, offering a capacity of 10,900 for sports such as basketball, futsal, and handball, with a few more fans afforded in concerts and boxing combats. The Spaladium is regularly used by KK Split, the city’s basketball club, and in the past received a tense Davis Cup (tennis) encounter between Croatia and Serbia, and matches of the Handball World Championship and European Futsal Championship.

The Krešimir Ćosić Hall, in Zadar, can also accommodate 10,000, and was likewise built in 2008, with KK Zadar, the town’s professional basketball team, currently taking care of the facility. As for the Varaždin Arena, the 5400 seats were kept warm by handball fans in 2009, but today the region’s basketball and volleyball enthusiasts are also welcomed on a regular basis. However, in 2018, the Varaždin Arena will once again be a focus of handball’s followers, hosting the European Championships alongside the Zagreb Arena, the Spaladium Arena and the Žatika Sport Centre, in Poreč, a hall that can accommodate 3700.

The Dražen Petrović Basketball Hall at full capacity during an EuroLeague match

Anyway, rest assured that Croatia didn’t exactly shut down all the former sites in 2008, and two of the remaining venues deserve a mention. The Dražen Petrović Basketball Hall, built for the 1987 Universiade, is still Zagreb’s basketball “Meca” and both KK Cibona and KK Zagreb make use of the 5,400-seats pavilion, while their rivals KK Cedevita perform at the squeaky Dom Sportova.

Erected in 1972, this venue features six halls (the two largest holding 6500 and 3100 spectators) and walls that saw several exceptional sports’ competitions over the years, including the final tournament of the 1989 EuroBasket, the 2000 European Men’s Handball Championship, the 2003 World Women’s Handball Championship, the 2005 Women’s European Volleyball Championship, and the 2008 and 2013 European Figure Skating Championships. Currently, beyond basketball, is also the regular home of ice hockey’s Medveščak Zagreb.

The regatta path at the Jarun Lake Recreation Centre, in the Sava River

Elsewhere around the capital city, the Jarun Lake Recreation Centre is a complex worth mentioning, since the area, situated on the Sava River, was redesigned to accommodate races of the 1987 Universiade. International rowing, canoeing and kayaking contests are regularly held at the 2250 metres long regatta path, with the 2012 Canoe Sprint European Championships and the 2000 World Rowing Championships functioning as prime examples.

The Sava River’s bank is also home to another popular sports complex called “Sports Park Mladost”. Among several world-class facilities like pools, tennis courts and outdoor fields for basketball, volleyball, handball, football  and hockey, should be highlighted the stadium, which hosts an international athletics meeting every year, and the water polo venue, where the 2010 Men’s European Water Polo Championship was held.

Keeping up with the aquatic theme, we should reference Rijeka’s Bazeni Kantrida, the venue that hosted the 2008 European Short Course Swimming Championships. The capacity of the swimming complex is approximately 1,200 and water polo club VK Primorje plays its games there.

The picturesque location of the ITC Stella Maris tennis complex in Umag

The Croatia Open Umag, the ATP tournament held annually in Umag since 1990, makes use of the ITC Stella Maris tennis complex, whose stadium court has a capacity of 3,500 people, while another coastal town, Zadar, regularly welcomes international sailing championships to its harbour.

The country’s most important winter sports centre is located on the Medvednica mountain, just north of Zagreb. Sljeme, on the northern slopes, has hosted the Snow Queen Trophy, a FIS World Cup slalom skiing race, since 2005.

Yearly Events

The major teams in Croatia have adhered to the recent paradigm of club competition on Eastern Europe, and thus the powerhouses in basketball, handball and water polo participate in their sport’s version of the Adriatic League, professional leagues that pit the top clubs from the nations in the region before they join their scaled-down national championships in time for the playoffs. Basketball’s ABA League runs from October to March with the playoffs following, while handball’s SEHA League is contested between September and February, with the Final Four held in April. As for Water Polo, the Riglav Regionalna Liga is disputed from September to the end of January, with the Final Four occurring in March. In the meantime, these clubs also fight for the Continent’s major competitions.

The Croatian Football League starts in July and ends in May, enjoying a two month winter break from mid-December to mid-February.

For a summary of the rest of Croatia’s main yearly sporting events, look below:

Snow Queen Trophy (FIS Alpine Skiing World Cup Event), Alpine Skiing

Zagreb (Sljeme), January

The Snow Queen trophy course at Sljeme, near Zagreb

Tour of Croatia, Cycling

End in Zagreb, April

Artistic Gymnastics World Challenge Cup, Artistic Gymnastics

Osijek, April/May

Plitvice Lakes Marathon, Athletics

Mukinje (Plitvice Lakes National Park), June

Croatia Open (ATP Tour Tournament), Tennis

Umag, July

Divlja liga (Wild League), (Amateur) Water Polo

Dubrovnik, July/August

Hanžeković Memorial (IAAF World Challenge Meeting), Athletics

Zagreb, September

Mrduja Regatta, Sailing

Split, September/October

European Tour of Sports – Romania

The Basics

Population: 20.1 M
Area: 238 391 km2
Capital: Bucharest
Summer Olympic Medals: 301 (88 G-94 S-119 B)
Winter Olympic Medals: 1 (0 G-0 S-1 B)

Popular sports and History

Romania places in a very honourable 15th position on the all-time Olympic Games’ medal count, and there is an edition that contributed with more than one in six medals conquered for the country. In 1984, at Los Angeles, Romania only trailed the hosts, collecting 20 golds and a total of 53 laurels, a haul never approached before or after. Those Olympic Games were indelibly marked by the boycott of the rest of the so-called Eastern Bloc, headlined by the Soviet Union, but Romania’s feats can’t be belittled as they reigned supreme over powerhouses like China, Japan or West Germany. And that performance came in the middle of a stretch where the country amassed, at least, 24 medals on four consecutive editions, starting in Montreal 76 and ending in Seoul 1988. Those were the heydays of Romania’s artistic gymnastics, but we’ll get to that later.

Our first stop is on a sport that hasn’t contributed to the more than 300 medals conquered on the Olympic stage, but it is, nonetheless, the most beloved by Romanians. The nation’s football history has no record of a major international triumph by the “Tricolorii”, the Romanian National team, but they’ve participated in seven World Cups, with the pinnacle being a quarter-final in 1994, a tournament highlighted by the elimination of Argentina. On the continental stage, Romania will take part for the fifth time on the European Championships in 2016, hoping to best the quarter-finals achieved in 2000.

Connecting the squads of 1994 and 2000 was one man above all others, The “Regele” (“The King”) of Romanian football, Mr. Gheorghe Hagi. The exquisite playmaker graced the fields of Europe for two decades and is not only one of the few players to have represented both Real Madrid (1990-92) and FC Barcelona (1992-94), but also a legend in Turkey, where he’ll forever be remembered as “The Commander” by Galatasaray fans. Hagi’s technique and vision were responsible for another nickname, “The Maradona of the Carpathians”, and the recognition as the greatest Romanian player of all-time, a country he represented in 137 occasions (35 goals).

Gheorghe Hagi with the Romanian jersey on the 1994 World Cup

Names like those of Gheorghe Popescu, who also played for Barcelona and Galatasaray, and Miodrag Belodedici, the first player to win the European Cup for two different clubs (Steaua Bucharest (1986) and Red Star Belgrade (1991), are also inked in the nation’s books, while Mircea Lucescu served Romania as a player (70 appearances) and coach (1981-86), but is most recognized for an illustrious career as a manager in Italy, Ukraine and Turkey, where he led Hagi and Galatasaray to an unprecedented triumph on the 2000 UEFA Cup.

At the club level, FC Steaua București is, undoubtedly, the most important institution, becoming the first Eastern Europe club to win the European Cup, in 1986, and losing the final three years later. Steaua also has a record number of National Championships (26) and National Cups (22), with fierce rivals Dinamo București coming next. Dinamo was the first Romanian team to reach the semi-finals of the European Cup, in 1984, defeating the holders Hamburg SV. FC Rapid București, FC Universitatea Craiova and CFR Cluj have also amassed a significant number of national honours.

Handball is the second team sport in Romania, with the men’s national team securing the World Championships on four occasions (1961, 64, 70, 74), tied for the most with Sweden, and adding four medals in Olympic tournaments (silver in 1976, bronze in 1972, 1980, 1984). However, Romania has been away from the top over the last two decades, missing all but two (2009 and 2011) World tournaments since 1997, and failing to qualify for the European Championships and Olympic Games since the early 90’s. Both Steaua București (1968 and 1977) and Dinamo București (1965) have won the sport’s Champions League, while CS UCM Reşiţa, HC Odorheiu Secuiesc and HC Minaur Baia Mare have secured other European competitions.

The Women’s National team won the World Championship in 1962, came second in 1973 and 2005, and has never missed the tournament, something no other nation can claim. CS Oltchim Râmnicu Vâlcea triumphed on every European Cup, except for the Champions League (finalists in 2010), and also holds the record for most national titles on the women’s side.

Romania is a top European nation in Rugby, having competed in every World Cup. The Stejarii (”The Oaks”) picked up the European Nations Cup (also called the Six Nations B, a tournament instituted in 2000) in four instances, trailing only Georgia, their challenger for the right to be considered the seventh best team on the continent. In their history, Romania has managed to beat France, Italy, Scotland and Wales, four of the Six Nations.

The Romanian rugby national team celebrated after a win over Canada on the 2015 World Cup

Other team sports that boast some relevancy on Romania’s sports landscape are basketball, volleyball and water polo. The Romanian men’s Basketball team finished 5th on the 1957 and 1967 Eurobasket, but hasn’t qualified for the competition since 1987, while their women’s counterparts took part in the 2015 Eurobasket, by virtue of co-organizing the competition with Hungary, and were defeated in all four matches. Gheorghe Mureșan isn’t the best Romanian Basketball player of all-time, since that honour goes to Andrei Folbert, captain of the national team for 25 years, but he’s definitely the most recognizable face, becoming the first to compete in the NBA and, in the process, sharing the distinction as the tallest man ever in the League, standing at 2.31 m.

Romania men’s volleyball team captured a silver medal in the 1980 Olympic Games and reached the podium in the World Cup on four occasions, from 1956 to 1966, while the water polo representation is a regular in the most important international competitions, even if they have never been able to guarantee a top three position.

Nadia Comaneci, an Olympic legend at age 14

For Romania, no sport has been engraved more on the world scale than artistic gymnastics, with a strong tradition rooted on the successes of their ladies. The sport has managed to fetch a staggering total of 72 Olympic medals, including 25 golds, and contributed with the best female athlete in Romania’s history. A 14-year-old girl by the name of Nadia Comaneci took by storm the 1976 Olympics and became the first ever gymnast to score a perfect ten during her routine on the uneven bars, one of the most memorable moments in Olympic Games’ history. She conquered three individual gold medals (uneven bars, balance beam and all-around competition) in Montreal, and added two more in Moscow 1980, leaving his Olympic tally in 5 titles, three silver medals, including two on the team competition, and a bronze.

Comaneci’s achievements transcended her sport and brought a great deal of attention to Gymnastics, something her country beneficiated from on the following Olympics, with Ecaterina Szabo collecting gold medals in three (vault, balance beam, floor) of the four individual events in Los Angeles 84. She also added the team triumph, missing the all-around crown for just 0.5 points to home favourite Mary Lou Retton. In 1988, it was Daniela Silivaș’ time to shine, medalling in all six events of the Seoul Olympics, including the titles in the uneven bars, floor exercise and balance beam. Romania’s prowess has continued into the 21st century, carried on by Olympic Champions like Sandra Izbașa and Cătălina Ponor, who combined for nine medals, five of them golds. On the men’s side, Marius Urzică and his unique style on the pommel horse were catalysts to a career highlighted by three Olympic medals in the event on consecutive Games (1996-2004), and three World Championships titles.

Another individual sport rooted in Romania’s lore is tennis, mainly by the achievements of the third member of Romanian sports’ gold triangle (alongside Hagi and Comaneci). Ilie Năstase is the only Romanian to ever become World N.1* (between August 1973 and June 1974) but he didn’t stop there. He won Roland Garros in 1972 without dropping a set on the entire tournament, the US Open in 1973, and four ATP Tour Finals, the most important titles of the more than 100 he amassed between singles and doubles. Năstase also led Romania to three Davis Cup finals (1969, 1971, 1972), losing out on the trophy at the hands of the USA on every occasion. Nonetheless, the long campaigns forged a partnership with teammate Ion Țiriac, who rose as far as 8th on the singles rankings before building a reputation as a billionaire businessman, tennis coach, manager and tournament promotor.

Ilie Năstase, Romania’s best tennis player of all-time

On the female circuit, Virginia Ruzici is (by now) the most accomplished player hailing from Romania, having won the French Open in 1978 on both singles and doubles. On the Fed Cup, Romania went as far as the semi-finals in 1973, but the country has been away from the top division since 1992, a run of futility that will end in 2016 due to a renaissance of the women’s game expressed on the presence of five players among the top 100 in the World. Meanwhile, no Romanian man is currently on the top 100 of the ATP Tour Singles Ranking.

*Horia Tecău, alongside Dutch Jean-Julien Rojer, climbed to the lead of the ATP Doubles Rankings today (23/11/2015) after winning the Masters

The second sport in Romania’s history in terms of Olympic silverware is rowing, with 37 medals conquered. Elisabeta Lipă collected a total of eight over a run of six consecutive Olympic Games, from 1984 to 2004, a feat no other rower has ever achieved. She ascended to the podium propelling four different boats, the singles, doubles and quadruple sculls plus the eight-oared boat. Likewise, the 20 years that mediated the first and last of her five Olympic titles are a record in the sport. Also on the history books, Georgeta Damian won six medals (5 titles) from 2000 to 2008, on the coxless pair and eights, first pairing with Doina Ignat (4G+1S+1B) and later with Viorica Susanu (4G+1 B). In London 2012, for the first time in 36 years, Romania came home without a medal from their rowers.

Also impelling the water, Ivan Patzaichin hauled seven Olympic medals (four titles) on Canoeing from 1968 to 1984, later becoming the long-time head of the Romanian national team on a sport that has contributed with 34 medals for the country’s tally.

Alina Dumitru, Judo Olympic Champion in Beijing 2008

Fencing is another sport that enjoys great tradition, with six Romanians among the sport’s Hall of Fame, and 15 medals, spanning every weapon, accumulated since the 50’s. The track and field events (Athletics) place third on the nation’s list of Olympic offerings, with 35 honours, and the women have also been responsible for most of the biggest moments, at least recently: Constantina Diță was the marathon Olympic Champion in 2008; Gabriela Szabo won the 5000 meters of the 2000 Sidney Olympics; Lidia Simon was a silver medallist on the marathon in the same edition, and Ionela Târlea a runner up on the 400 meters hurdles in Athens 2004.

Judo has come into the spotlight over the last few years, with half of the sport’s six medals conquered in 2008 and 2012. Alina Dumitru was a surprising Olympic Champion in Beijing on the -48kg category, and won silver four years later, while Corina Căprioriu lost the decisive encounter in London on the -57kg. Boxing, Wrestling, weightlifting and shooting have also brought joy to the Romanian people on multiple occasions.

Romania’s history on the Winter Olympics is much less impressive, including a single moment of glory, back in the 1968 edition, when the two-man bobsleigh crew of Ion Panturu and Nicolae Neagoe stepped up on the lower podium position.

To wrap it up, a reference to Romania’s own traditional sport, Oină, a team game sharing similarities with baseball that is also played on neighbouring Moldova, and wherever there is a Romanian ethnic or cultural presence.

Star Athletes

Simona Halep (Tennis)

The picturesque city of Constanța, on the edge of the Black Sea, welcomed Halep to the world in September of 1991 and, from early on, the diminutive Simona displayed tremendous talent and passion for the game. The pursuit of the dream to become a professional led to a move to Bucharest at age 16 and a triumph on the 2008 Roland Garros Junior event would soon follow, enlisting the Romanian on the list of biggest promises in the sport. She would dip her toe on the WTA during 2009, but her results didn’t really took off until she made the extremely brave decision to have breast reduction surgery in order to improve her career prospects, citing recurring back pain and trouble with the additional weight.

Simona Halep clutches the Indian Wells trophy, the most important she’s conquered on her career

From 2010 to 2012, Halep slowly improved her game and adapted to the top-level, despite failing to go past the second round on any Grand Slam or conquer a WTA trophy. In 2013, she finally put it all together and broke into the scene with a bang, winning her maiden tournament in June, at Nuremberg, and adding five more until the end of the season, to finish with six on three different surfaces (clay, grass and hard courts). She climbed from just inside to top 50 all the way to 11th, was named WTA Most Improved Player of the Year, and set her sight on breaking into the top 10. A quarterfinal performance at the 2014 Australian Open did the trick and Halep didn’t look back. Her first Grand Slam final followed soon, ultimately losing to Maria Sharapova at Roland Garros, but she also reached the semi-finals at Wimbledon, triumphed on the important Qatar Open, and celebrated, at home, on the Bucharest Open. By August, Halep had already became the 2nd player in the world and she ended 2014 with an impressive debut at the WTA Finals, defeating Serena Williams during the group stage before succumbing to the same opponent on the final.

In 2015, Halep solidified her grip on the top positions of the WTA Rankings, ending the season as the Number 2, but couldn’t take a step forward in the Grand Slams, with a semi-final at the US Open as the best outcome. However, her triumph at Indian Wells, a Premier Tournament, represented the most relevant trophy of her career and, at age 24, she has a lot ahead, with her aggressive game from the baseline combined with great athleticism and balance well suited for more successes down the road.

Marian Drăgulescu (Artistic Gymnastics)

So, up there I wrote almost 300 words on artistic gymnastics and Romania’s history on the ladies side, and now I’ll feature a male gymnast? It’s certainly strange but the pool of candidates it’s so much deeper on the women’s side that I had to scramble a bit.

Marian Drăgulescu is still picking up medals for his country at age 34

Anyway, Marian Drăgulescu is a more than qualified athlete to be here. After all, the 34-year-old has won a staggering amount of 26 medals between Olympics, World and European Championships. The Bucharest-native toggled with other sports as a youngster but ended up choosing gymnastics, and the decision paid off on the first international championship he competed in, the 1998 Junior European Championships, which he left with four medals. Two years later, on the 2000 Olympics, Drăgulescu was a 20-year-old newcomer that performed modestly among the big boys but, by the 2001 World Championships, the Romanian was already amongst the best, taking gold on the vault and floor exercise, the first two of his eight career world titles. Three more medals settled his spot on the top in 2002, netting the recognition as Gymnast of the year, and he reached the 2004 Olympics fresh of four triumphs on the European Championships (team competition, vault, floor exercise and all-around).

In Athens, he became a household name on his country by gathering a trio of medals. First, the 23-year-old helped secure a bronze on the team event, then came out second on the floor exercise, losing the title on a tiebreaker, and later added another bronze medal on the vault. On this event, Drăgulescu failed to secure the title after making an error on his second attempt, and the disappointment trickled into an extemporaneous retirement announcement in 2005, from which he returned before long to take the vault title on the World Championships. Two years later, a heavy fall during the European Championships derailed his preparation to the Beijing Olympics, and history ended up repeating itself, with the vault Olympic title escaping again after a near perfect first routine.

He left Beijing empty handed, retired and unretired again in 2009, and went through some tough seasons, pulling out of the 2012 Olympics due to injury. By 2015, approaching age-35, way past the peak for most gymnasts, Drăgulescu is still hanging on with the best, as proved by the gold medal conquered on the vault at the 2015 World Championships. Time will tell if he can finally write his name in gold on Olympic history next year, but the “Drăgulescu”, a move described as “a handspring double front with half turn” will stand the test of time on the future of the vault apparatus.

Cristina Neagu (Handball)

The 27-year-old born in Bucharest has carved a place amongst the top-echelon of female handball players in the World after shining on several occasions for her country at the international stage. Neagu debuted on the professional ranks for Rulmentul Braşov in 2006, and helped the team to an EHF Cup Winner’s Cup trophy in 2008 and three runner-up positions on the national league, behind a CS Oltchim Râmnicu Vâlcea club that was starting a string of seven consecutive titles. The left back switched sides in 2009, just as she was becoming the best player on the country, and the new challenge proved decisive for a 2010 season that would leave an indelible mark on her career.

She led Oltchim to the Champions League final, lost to Denmark’s Viborg, and then dazzled at the European Championships, where she won the top scorer award, was elected to the tournament’s All-Star Team, and helped Romania to a first podium position in history. Her performance was so impressive that she was named as the IHF World Player of the Year.

Cristina Neagu, Romania’s handball national team lethal left back

However, in 2010-11, Neagu started an injury ordeal that would last almost three years, first due to damage on her right shoulder cartilage that kept her out for two seasons and, in early 2013, after a rupture on the cruciate ligaments of her left knee. Before 2013-14, the Romania star left her country to join Montenegro’s ŽRK Budućnost Podgorica, and found her stride again, repeating the All Star Team distinction in the 2014 European Championships just a few months before coming in 2nd on the election for World Player of the Year. Her team lost the Champions League Final in 2014, but Neagu’s ability as a scorer carried them back to the decision in 2015, with the Romanian winning the biggest title of her career until today.

Other Athletes: Cătălin Fercu and Florin Vlaicu (Rugby), Cătălina Ponor and Sandra Izbașa (Artistic Gymnastics), Ana Maria Brânză and Simona Gherman (Épée, Fencing), Tiberiu Dolceanu (Sabre, Fencing), Alin Moldoveanu (shooting), Corina Căprioriu and Andreea Chițu (Judo), Elizabeta Samara (Table Tennis), Horia Tecău (Tennis), Alexandru Dumitrescu (Canoeing), Vlad Chiricheș (Football)

Venues

Romania doesn’t boast the same deep pockets that their western neighbours have demonstrated when it comes to building shinny new top sporting facilities, but they’ve steadily worked to modernize and substitute the most important venues in the country.

The symbol of that is the state-of-the-art Arena Națională (National Arena), which opened in 2011 and substituted the former Stadionul Național, the home of the national football team between 1953 and 2008. The 55.600-seats venue, located on the Romanian capital, has hosted, in addition to national team matches’, the 2012 UEFA Europa League Final – the first ever European football final held in the country – and several continental appointments of the country’s main clubs, especially Steaua and Dinamo Bucharest. In 2020, the stadium will receive four matches of the 2020 UEFA European Championships.

The Arena Națională on the night of the inaugural match, between Romania and France.

Beyond the National Arena, there are three more stadiums that can accommodate more than 30.000 people: the Dan Paltinisanu Stadium (32.972), in Timișoara, opened in 1964; the 1983’s Stadionul Iftimie Ilisei (32.700), in Medgidia; and the majestic Cluj Arena (30.201), a modern venue erected in 2011 to be used by Fotbal Club Universitatea Cluj. This arena is also equipped with a running track, opening the possibility of welcoming important athletics’ meetings. CFR Cluj, the city’s most famous club, plays on the Stadionul Dr. Constantin Rădulescu, a facility with capacity for 23.500 that dates back to 1973.

Steaua Bucharest’s long-time home, the Stadionul Steaua, is owned by the Ministry of National Defence, and disagreements with the government meant the club had to move out from the place they occupied since 1974. Until a solution is found, they’ve transferred to the Arena Națională. Opened in 2011, the Stadionul Ilie Oană, in Ploiești, seats just 15.500, but it’s one of the only three Romanian venues (alongside the Arena Națională and Cluj Arena) ranked by UEFA as a category 4 stadium, thus able to host Champions League and Europa League matches.

On a different perspective, the Stadionul Naţional de Rugby “Arcul de Triumf” deserves a reference, as the 5.500-seats facility is considered the historical ground of the Romanian national rugby team.

In terms of indoor arenas, the Sala Polivalentă (Polyvalent Hall) din București, with a capacity for up to 5.300, is the main hall for sports events in the capital. Renovated in 2008 and 2011, the building has hosted several high-end events in a number of sports, such as the final of the 2000 Women’s Handball European Championships, the 2014 European Judo Championships, or the 2009 European Weightlifting Championships. However, there’s a bigger indoor venue in Bucharest, the Romexpo, an iconic building for combat sports in Romania, since almost 14.000 can watch the battles on scene. With the concert configuration, though, 40.000 can flock inside a hall that dates back to 1962.

Cluj-Napoca’s Sala Polivalentă during an handball match

Cluj-Napoca’s own Sala Polivalentă opened up in October 2014, alongside the new Cluj Arena, and can host 10.000 fans for boxing or concerts and, approximately, 7300 for basketball and handball matches. The local men’s basketball (U BT Cluj-Napoca) and women’s handball (Universitatea Alexandrion Cluj-Napoca) teams hold their games on the hall.

In Craiova, the Sala Polivalentă is also very recent, having been inaugurated in 2012. The arena holds 4200 spectators in the matches of the city’s volleyball, basketball and handball teams. The Sala Sporturilor Olimpia, in Ploiești, was renovated from 2011 to 2013, and now welcomes 3500 spectators for the matches of CSU Asesoft Ploiești, the most successful basketball team in the country during this century, winners of 10 of the last 11 national championships.

Staying indoors but on a different surface, the Patinoarul Olimpic Brașov is a multi-purpose ice rink, with 1600 seats, inaugurated in 2010 with the goal of hosting the festivities of the 2013 European Youth Winter Olympic Festival. The ski jumping events for the Festival were held at the Râșnov Ski Jump, a hill that has hosted rounds of the ladies’ FIS Ski Jumping World Cup.

Meanwhile, the Patinoarul Mihai Flamaropol holds 8.000 and is the venue used by the Steaua Rangers, the ice hockey section of Steaua Bucharest and the sport’s most decorated club in Romania. The capital’s rink will be demolished to make space for a new 16.000-seats facility on the proximity of the Arena Națională.

Getting back outside, the Arenele BNR is a tennis complex with 11 courts – including a stadium with capacity for 5.000 – which hosts the WTA and ATP Tour annual events held in Bucharest.

Yearly Events

You can’t really say Romania has a league nested on Europe’s top-level (except maybe in women’s handball), but you’ll surely find some decent matches dotted around the country in various sports. Several handball, basketball and football teams are competitive on international competitions, so keep an eye on the league’s schedules from August to May.
For some of the main sporting events held on the country during the year, look below:

Irina Deleanu Cup, Rhythmic Gymnastics (World Cup Series)
Bucharest, April

The Arenele BNR Stadium on a night session

BRD Năstase Țiriac Trophy (Romanian Open), Tennis (ATP Tour)
Bucharest, April

Cluj-Napoca International Marathon, Athletics

Cluj-Napoca, April

Spring Cup, Rhythmic Gymnastics
Ploiești, May

BRD Bucharest Open, Tennis (WTA Tour)
Bucharest, July

Bucharest Trophy, (Women’s) Handball

Bucharest, August

Constanța-Mamaia ETU Triathlon European Cup, Triathlon
Constanța-Mamaia (Constanța district), September

Bucharest International Marathon, Athletics
Bucharest, October

European Tour of Sports – Hungary

The Basics

Population: 9.8 M

Area: 93 030 km2

Capital: Budapest

Summer Olympic Medals: 476 (167 G-144 S-165 B)

Winter Olympic Medals: 6 (0 G-2 S-4 B)

Popular sports

There are seven countries in the world that can proudly boast to have collected more Olympic medals than Hungary. Of those, only Sweden has a better medal per capita rating, and missing the 1920 and 1984 Games does not help the Magyars numbers even if they still lead in golds per people. However, Hungary is undoubtedly the most successful country to never host an edition of the Olympics.

For the majority of sports fans, the most recognizable team in the country’s history is the Golden team, the national football team that dominated this sport’s landscape in the early 50’s. Also known as the Mighty Magyars, the team headlined by legendary Ferenc Puskás, Sándor Kocsis and Zoltán Czibor redefined football with his revolutionary WM formation (2-3-3-2), a tactical breakthrough based on versatility that would inspire the “Total Football” that Netherlands implemented a couple of decades later. This mythical football side, coached by Gusztáv Sébes, won the 1952 Olympic tournament, demolished a pretentious English national team on two notable clashes, and lost only once from 1950 to 1956, precisely the 1954 Wold Cup Final, a controversial match that West Germany secured on what went to become known as the “Bern Miracle” and one of the biggest upsets in sports history. Nonetheless, the Hungarian Revolution of 1956 effectively scattered the core of this magical team, with the main stars leaving home powerhouse Budapest Honvéd to play at FC Barcelona or Real Madrid. The football national team was also a runner-up on the 1938 World Cup and added two more Olympic gold medals in 1964 and 1968, but the pipeline of talent has gone dry over the last decades, with the last Wold Cup appearance dating back to 1986, and the 4th place on the 1972 European Championship being the last noteworthy outcome.

Hungarian Legend Férenc Puskás (#10, right) and RFA’s Captain Fritz Walter exchange pleasantries before the 1954 World Cup Final kick off

The most successful clubs on the country are the capital’s representatives: Ferencváros, holders of a record 28 championship titles, MTK Budapest, Újpest and Honvéd, but over the last few years new powers have emerged, namely Debrecen, winners of seven of the last ten national titles, and current champions Videoton, based on the city of Székesfehérvár. With the apex of the nation’s football coming on the early 50’s, before the creation of European Cups, Hungarian clubs don’t have a highly decorated continental history, with the only triumph belonging to Ferencváros, winner of the Inter-Cities Fairs Cup in 1965.

Today, the most important team sport in Hungary is water polo, with no other nation gathering as much Olympic glory on the game. Nine Olympic gold medals on the men’s event and a total of fifteen in twenty-five editions display the domination of the nation on the world scale, with the most famous match of all-time opposing the Magyars and the Soviet Union on the height of the Hungarian uprising of 1956. The semi-final of the 1956 Melbourne Games will forever be known as the “Blood in the Water match” after Valentin Prokorov punched Ervin Zador’s eye on the final minutes of Hungary’s 4-0 win, with the blood pouring on the water almost causing a riot of the Hungarian fans that forced the game to be called off in the final minute. Holders of three World Championships and twelve European Championships, Hungary took gold in three consecutive Olympic tournaments at the beginning of this century but lost on the quarter-finals to Italy in London 2012, while the women’s team has yet to medal on four editions. Deszõ Gyarmati, a three-time Olympic Champion (1952, 1962 and 1964) and five-time medallist, is the most decorated player in the history of the sport and later, as a coach, led the Magyar nation to three more medals, including gold in 1976. He scored a goal and set up the other three in the infamous battle of Melbourne.

The Hungarian Water Polo team celebrates after winning the Olympic title in 2008

Handball is the other team sport with great relevance in Hungary. Although the national team has never medalled in the Olympics, Hungary has finished an incredible five times just outside the podium, in 4th, the last of those in 2012. In European Championships they haven’t been able to do better than that, whereby the only laureate came in 1986, when they lost the World Championship final to Yugoslavia despite the best efforts of left-back Péter Kovács, the most prolific and most capped player in Hungarian handball history. At the club level, MKB Veszprém holds two EHF Cup Winner’s Cup and a record 23 national titles, being followed by the 14 of Honvéd, the only Hungarian club to win the EHF Champions League, in 1982. Meanwhile, Pick Szeged, the main internal competition to Veszprém, triumphed in the EHF Cup in 2014. On the women’s side, the leading team is Győri ETO, winner of the last seven national championships and European Champions in 2013 and 2014. The female national team was the European Champion in 2000, the World Champion in 1965, and a runner-up on the 2000 Sidney Olympics.

Shifting attentions to individual performances, fencing is the sport that has contributed the most to the honourable Hungarian Olympic total, with 83 medals amassed, 35 of those golds. On a country that excels in producing sabre and epee specialists, a good portion of those awards were conquered due to the efforts of Aladár Gerevich, the only man in history to win six Olympic titles on the same event (sabre team competition, 1932-1960), to which he added the individual title in 1948. His colleague Pál Kovács shared part of the credit in five of those six consecutive Olympic golds, competing from 1936 to 1960 and triumphing on the individual event in 1952, while Rudolf Kárpáti also managed to collect six gold medals, four on the team event (1948 to 1960) and the individual spoils in 1956 and 1960. Hadn’t the WWII wiped out two editions of the Games, their trophy cabinets would be even more crammed.

Katalin Kóvacs (front) and Natasa Dusev-Janics have achieved multiple sucesses representing Hungary over the last decade

Below fencing on the podium of sports with most medals, we find two water sports that display the expertise of the Magyars despite being a landlocked nation. Indeed, no sea access doesn’t necessarily mean few aquatic resources and the presence of two important rivers, the Danube and the Tizsa, along with Lake Balaton, the largest in Central Europe, allow for plenty of training opportunities for swimmers and canoeists. Krisztina Egerszegi is probably the biggest name in Hungary’s swimming history, being the only female swimmer to win five individual Olympic titles and one of three athletes to win the same swimming event (200 m backstroke) in three Summer Olympics (1988, 1992, 1996). However, she is joined by Tamás Darnyi, who collected four gold medals in 1988 and 1992 and went undefeated in individual medley events between 1985 and 1993, which also grants him recognition as one of the greatest of all-time in the sport. Meanwhile, sprint canoeist Katalin Kovács holds a record of 40 World Championships medals, including 31 titles, and added eight more on Olympic competitions, all in team events, sharing the K2-500m wins in 2004 and 2008 with Natasa Dusev-Janics.

Gymnastics, wrestling and boxing have also provided a fair share of success to the country, with double digit Olympic titles. In particular, artistic gymnastics has contributed with several Hungarian idols: Ágnes Keleti, who won 10 Olympic medals in just two Games (1952 and 1956), including five golds, is considered one of the most successful Jewish athletes of all-time, and Zoltán Magyar was a double Olympic champion in the Pommel Horse discipline. Boxer László Papp is one of the most notable Hungarian-born athletes of all-time, becoming the first boxing triple Olympic Champion in 1956 and never losing a fight in his professional career (27 wins plus 2 draws)
However, outside of Water Polo, there’s only one other sport where Hungary leads the all-time medal count and that is the modern pentathlon, with 22 medals achieved in 38 total events in Olympic history. András Balczó owns five of them, collected between 1960 and 1972, when he conquered his only individual Olympic title.

Hungary’s only medals in Winter Olympic Games were achieved in figure skating and always in pair’s competitions, with the last of the six dating back to 1980. Going outside the Olympic spectrum, it’s important to remember the Hungarian prowess in chess, spearheaded by the talents of recently retired Judit Polgár, by far the most decorated female player in history.

Star Athletes

Dániel Gyurta (Swimming)

The 26-year old swimmer from Budapest was considered a premature prodigy since his early days and he didn’t take long to make a big splash. As a 15-year-old, he was second on the 200m breaststroke race of the Athens Olympics, in 2004, but that feat did not materialize on more successes right away, with Gyurta failing to medal again in big long-course competitions until 2009. In between, he added some silverware on less important short-course (SC) events and failed to defend his position on the 2008 Olympics, missing the podium by two positions. However, he found the right path at the 2009 World Championships (LC), taking the title on his favourite race, the 200m, and he hasn’t stopped picking up medals since then. He renewed his World title in 2011 and 2013, extended his dominance on the longest breaststroke event to the 2010 and 2012 SC Worlds, and reached the pinnacle with the Olympic title conquered on the 2012 London Games in a new world record time. He has since lost that record but continues to be the most feared swimmer on the 200m breaststroke, a race Gyurta usually starts slowly in order to roar back on the second half and surprise his opponents.

The three times Hungarian Sportsman of the Year (2009, 2012 and 2013), although, is more than just a Champion, having received the 2013 International Fair Play Award, attributed by UNESCO, due to his magnificent tribute to fallen rival Alexander Dalen Oen, a Norwegian breaststroker who died months before the 2012 Olympics and whose family received a replica of the Gold medal won by Gyurta.

Krisztián Berki (Gymnastics)

Olympic Champion Krisztián Berki prolongs Hungary’s tradition of great gymnasts

Born in 1985, Berki is currently rated as the best pommel horse worker of all-time, having completely dominated the gymnastic discipline over the last few years. He has collected six European titles since his first major international championship, in 2005, on the edition held on Debrecen, and added three World titles in 2010, 2011 and 2014, results that netted him the nomination as Hungarian Sportsman of the Year on the same seasons.

However, there’s nothing like an Olympic gold medal and Berki also climbed to the highest podium position in London 2012, seeing off the challenge put on by British Louis Smith due to a tiebreaker after both athletes finished the competition with the same score. Berki had a higher execution score by a difference of 0.1 points to luck out into the win, but he wouldn’t be as happy a year later after a fall on the qualifications round forced him out of his World title defence. In 2016, Berki will try to match compatriot Zóltan Magyar, striving to retain the Olympic crown.

Katinka Hosszú (Swimming)

I made a commitment to always select, at least, a female athlete on this section and I stand by that, even if, in this case, I needed to bend another rule, the one about not profiling two athletes from the same sport. The golden girl of Hungarian sport, though, is too important to leave out and Mr. Gyurta simply deserved his spot.

Hosszú, a 26-year-old native of Pecs, is one of the brightest and better-rounded swimmers of this age and her résumé on international championships (European and World Championships, both short and long course) boasts an astonishing 43 medals, 22 of those of the highest calibre. Her greatest successes have come on medley competitions but she has already participated and taken victories in every swimming discipline (freestyle, butterfly, breaststroke and backstroke). Anyway, Hosszú’s best races are the 200m and 400m medley and the gold medals on the LC World Championships came on those events, first in Rome 2009 (200m) and later the double triumph of Barcelona 2013.

Katinka Hosszú after another triumph

The Hungarian Sportswoman of the year in 2009, 2013 and 2014 competed in the last three Summer Olympics but failed to deliver on those occasions, something she will be eager to correct at Rio de Janeiro in 2016, which shouldn’t be a problem if the swimmer can maintain the level displayed last year. During the most decorated season of his career, Hosszú collected eight medals on the SC World Championships, including four titles, and added six more medals on the LC European Championships, an inordinate amount of prizes that earned her the distinction as FINA Swimmer of the Year.

The University of South California student also currently holds four individual World Records on short course (100, 2000 medley; 100, 200 backstroke) and the last three World Cup titles. She is married to his coach (and agent), American Shane Tusup, who received the award for Best Hungarian Coach of the Year in 2013 and 2014.

Other Athletes: László Cseh (Swimming), Krisztián Pars (Athletics), Gergely Kiss, Péter Biros (Water Polo), László Nagy (Handball), Áron Szilágyi (Fencing), Attila Vajda (Canoe Sprint), Miklós Hungvári (Judo), Danuta Kozák (Canoe sprint), Anita Görbicz (Handball), Éva Risztov (Swimming), Éva Csernoviczki (Judo)

Venues

Hungary’s sporting infrastructure is under complete overhaul, with the government approving, for example, a bizarre program to pump up, approximately, 250 M$ to upgrade and rebuild a total of 22 stadiums on the top two football divisions of the country.

The brand new Nagyerdei Stadion

In 2014, three new stadiums were already opened: the 23,700-seats Groupama Arena in Budapest, the new home of Ferencváros, the majestic Nagyerdei Stadion (Great Forest Stadium), in Debrecen, with a capacity for 20,000, and the polemic Pancho Arena, in Felcsút. The costly 3,500-seats facility is located on the small village of current Prime Minister Viktor Orbán and is destined for the country’s youth national teams, having already hosted games of the 2014 UEFA Euro Under-19.
The city of Győr also has a modern stadium, the ETO Park, a 15,600 arena built in 2008, but the biggest stadium in Hungary continues to be the Férenc Puskás Stadium, situated in the capital. Opened in 1953, the national stadium now holds 38,000 but, during the glory football days of the country, over 100,000 attended matches at the then-called Népstadium (People’s stadium). As an infrastructure highly deteriorated, options for a renovation or a rebuild have been weighted for years, with the current plans pointing to the construction of a new 68,000-seats facility on the same grounds and ready to open in 2018, in time to host matches of the 2020 UEFA European Championship. Numerous other sporting venues should also be erected on the vicinity of the new National Stadium, creating an Olympic Centre.

However, even before the new stadium, Hungary has already promised to build, in record time, the new Dagaly Swimming Center: an edgy state-of-the-art facility with capacity for 18,000 that was supposed to host the 2021 FINA World Aquatics Championships, but his now on track to receive the event’s edition in 2017, in what promises to be the largest-scale sports event ever hosted by Hungary. Yet, as of today, the most important swimming complexes in the country are the Debrecen venue, a 2,000-seats building that hosted the 2012 European Aquatics Championships, and Budapest’s Alfréd Hajós National Swimming Stadium, home of the 2006 and 2010 editions of the European Championships and the 2014 European Water Polo Championships.

The Laszlo Papp Budapest Sports Arena during last year’s EHF Women’s Champions League Final 4

The new natatorium will become the biggest indoor sporting venue in Hungary, surpassing the László Papp Budapest Sports Arena, the most important multi-purpose arena in the country. Welcoming up to 12,500 spectators in the largest configurations (music concerts), the building opened in 2003 regularly hosts a great variety of sports and entertainment events, including international competitions of ice hockey (2003 and 2011 IHHF World Championships Division I), handball (2004 and 2014 Women’s European Championships), athletics (2004 World Indoor Championships), tennis and futsal. The new Budapest Sports Arena substituted the Budapest Sportcsarnoc, a facility built in 1982 that lasted only 17 years before succumbing to a fire in 1999.

With a capacity for 8500, the Főnix Hall, situated in Debrecen, is the second most important indoor arena in the country, having been built just in time for the 2002 World Artistic Gymnastics Championships. Since then, several events have been held on the main venue of Hungary’s second largest city but the biggest was probably the final of the 2010 UEFA Futsal Championship, where Spain defeated Portugal.

The Audi Arena, located in Győr, holds 5,500 people and was inaugurated in November 2014, taking part, along with the venues in Budapest and Debrecen, on the 2014 Women’s Handball European Championship, an organization shared between Hungary and Croatia. The 4000-seats Arena Savaria, in Szombathely, is also an important facility, having opened in 2006, while the Veszprém Arena receives 5,000 spectators to provide an amazing atmosphere for the home team’s games in the handball Champions League.

The red clad Veszprém Arena in a Champions League match

The Kisstadion in Budapest is a singular venue, an outdoor stadium mainly used for ice hockey. Opened in 1961, holds up to 14,000 and hosted the Hungarian Winter Classic, in 2009, along with several concerts and Davis Cup matches. A recent renovation has set up an isolated tent to lengthen the ice-season and protect against Winter’s harsh weather conditions.

To close this section, reference to the motor-racing circuit of Hungaroring, situated in Mogyoród, just 18 km out of Budapest. Besides the Formula One Grand Prix that has taken place there annually since 1986, the home of Hungarian motorsports has also hosted DTM, FIA GT and FIA WTCC Championship races. Described has a “twisty and bumpy” track, the circuit is located on a valley, allowing for excellent sight lines from almost everywhere, and has a capacity for 70,000 fans, being one of Hungary’s most visited destinations.

Yearly Events

The best bets to watch exciting team sports events in Hungary are unquestionably the premier water polo national league, the Országos Bajnokság I (ou OB I), disputed between October and May, and the national handball championship, the Nemzeti Bajnokság I (NB I), with games ranging from September to May. Pick Szeged and Vészprém, the top handball teams in the country, are hot tickets, with regular sold out games and unbelievable atmospheres, but the same cannot be said of their football counterparts, who usually play in front of small attendances.

The list of the most important yearly sporting events in Hungary is the following:

ITTF World Tour Hungarian Open, Table Tennis
January, Budapest

WestEnd Grand Prix “in Memoriam Sakovics Jozsef”, Fencing
March, Budapest

Lake Balaton SuperMarathon, Athletics
March, Lake Balathon

The Red Bull Air Race in front of the Hungarian Parliament

FIA WTCC Race of Hungary, Motor Racing
May, Hungaroring (Mogyoród)

World Judo Grand Prix Budapest, Judo
June, Budapest

2015 European Women Basket Championship, Basketball
June (2015); Budapest, Debrecen, Győr, Szombathely, Sópron

Red Bull Air Race World Championships, Air Racing
July, Budapest

István Gyulai Memorial – Hungarian Athletics Grand Prix, Athletics
July, Székesfehérvár

Formula One Hungarian Grand Prix, Motor Racing
July, Hungaroring (Mogyoród)

2015 ICF Canoe Marathon Master’s World Cup, Canoeing
September (2015), Győr

National Gallop, Horse Racing
September, Budapest

Budapest International Marathon, Athletics
October, Budapest

Tennis Classics (exhibition tournament), Tennis
November, Budapest

European Tour of Sports – Sweden

The Basics


Population: 9.7 M
Area: 450 290 km2
Capital: Stockholm
Summer Olympic Medals: 483 (143 G-164 S-176 B)
Winter Olympic Medals: 144 (50 G-40 S-54 B)
Popular sports
“Välkommen till Sverige”, a land of less than ten million people that seats on the top ten in medals conquered at both the Summer and Winter Olympics, a country that sees half of its population engaged in sports clubs, and in which one in every five persons actively participates in sports activities.
I’m repeating myself over every article of this series, but you wouldn’t be surprised to know that football is right at the top of the Swede’s preferences, with the national team being a regular participant in the biggest international competitions after qualifying a total of 16 times for the World Cup and the European Championships. Although the country’s best results have come on home soil, mainly the second position at the 1958 World Cup, lost at the Räsunda Stadium against Pele’s Brazil, and the semi-final appearance at the Euro 1992, the Swedish national team is always regarded as a team to watch, as the third place finishes at the 1950 and 1994 World Cup reflect the amount of talent the Swedes have been able to produce over the years. Gunnar Gren, Gunnar Nordhal and Nils Liedholm, members of the team that won Gold at the 1948 Olympics, were probably the first big stars of the sport in the country, enjoying a formidable partnership over the 50’s for AC Milan and the “Blågult” (ENG: The Blue-Yellow), but later names like goaltender Thomas Ravelli and forwards Tomas Brolin and Henrik Larsson also left their mark on European football.

Tomas Brolin celebrates a goal for Sweden on the Euro 92

At the club level, despite today’s obscurity on the European scale, the fans of IFK Göteborg had the chance to celebrate two UEFA Cup wins on the 80’s, while Mälmo FF lost a European Cup final in 1979. A look over Swedish football wouldn’t be complete without a reference to the most successful Swedish coach of all-time, Mr. Sven-Göran Eriksson, who collected 17 trophies during managing stints in 9 different countries, including league-and-cup doubles for IFK Göteborg, a team that he coached to the 1982 UEFA Cup success, SL Benfica and SS Lazio.
On the women’s side, Sweden is definitely one of the continent’s main rulers, with the national team succeeding at the first edition of the European Championships, in 1984, and the best result at the World Cup happening in 2003, a loss in the final against hosts USA. However, over the last few years, they have successively fallen just short of glory, beaten on the semi or quarter-final stages of every major competition since 2007. The 1-0 loss to Germany in the semi-final of the 2013 European Championships the country organized is a perfect example of that. Meanwhile, Sweden’s Dammallsvenskan is hailed as one of the top domestic leagues in the World, with Umeå IK vaunting 2 Women’s Champions League trophies and three runner-up finishes.

Peter Forsberg on the victory lap after the Tre Kronor defeated Finland at the 2006 Turim Olympics Final

Sharing the spotlight with football on the leading sports coverage in Sweden is ice hockey, a sport where the national team, nicknamed “Tre Kronor” (ENG: Three Crowns), currently leads the World Rankings and boasts an impressive résumé. Nine World Championships, the most recent in 2013, and nine Olympic medals, including two golds, in 1994 and 2006, fill the nation’s trophy cabinet, but the Swede’s should also be proud of the amount of talent they have nurtured. Nicklas Lidström, Peter Forsberg, Mats Sundin, Börge Salming, Håkan Loob and Mats Näslund were all players that achieved great success both at home and at the NHL level, and their level of play ranks them among the best of all-time. Furthermore, the Swedish Hockey League is considered the third best in the world and even the second tier competition, the HockeyAllsvenskan, welcomes excellent attendances.
Handball is other team sport that receives plenty of attention in the country, as the Swedes can take pride on the four gold medals at the European Championships, a record, the four titles and eleven podium finishes at the World Championships, and the four silver medals gathered at the Olympic Games. The most successful period of the Swedish handball team came between 1996 and 2002, when the country reached eight consecutive major finals (Euro, World, Olympic) due to the “Bengan Boys”, that, coached by Bengt Johansson, thoroughly dominated the sport fielding star players like Staffan Olson, Magnus Wislander and Stefan Lövgren. However, since 2003, the squad has struggled to reach the same heights, with Sweden failing to get to podium positions, except for a silver medal at the 2012 London Olympics, and occasionally not qualifying at all.
Niche team sports such as curling, bandy (a mixture of ice hockey, field hockey and football played outdoors) and floorball are also quite popular in Sweden while the national basketball team sometimes appears at the European Championships. Still, the sport has never really take off in the country even with the recent presence of two players in the NBA (Jonas Jerebko, Jeffery Taylor).

Ingemar Stenmark, the men’s Alpine Skiing World Cup record-holder with 86 wins

With an abundance of snow, Sweden as always produced great athletes in winter sports, specially skiing events. In the alpine disciplines, names like Ingemar Stenmark, the best GS and slalom racer of all-time, Pernille Wiberg and Anja Pärsson are living legends, whereas Sixten Jernberg and Gunde Svan do the same for cross-country skiing, a sport where the country has amassed 74 Olympic medals, second only to Norway. And although ski jumping has never been the most triumphant discipline for the Swedes, another winter speciality, the biathlon, had his moments over time, particularly Magdalena Forsberg’s impressive run on the turn of the century, with six consecutive World Cup titles amassed between 1997 and 2002, and six golds won in World Championships.
With a total of 81 medals collected over the years on Olympic games, Athletics has a long tradition on the country, ranging from Ernst Fast’s third place on the men’s marathon of the 1900 Paris Olympics (Sweden’s first Olympic medal) to the triple Gold success of Athens more than one hundred years later. Actually, in that 2004 edition, Christian Olson took the spoils in the triple jump and Stefan Holm confirmed the Swedish tradition on the high jump, following the footsteps of names like Patrick Sjöberg and Kajsa Bergqvist. For the ladies, the gilt light shone on Carolina Klüft, the athlete that dominated the women’s heptathlon (and pentathlon) during the first decade of the new century, conquering an unmatched three consecutive world titles and posting the second highest point total of all-time (7032 points).

Björn Borg with one of the five consecutive Wimbledon trophies he captured

From the tracks to the courts, Swedish excellence provided three former tennis number one’s, Mats Wilander, Stefan Edberg, and Björn Borg, with the latter, a eleven-time Grand Slam Champion and a five-times ATP Player of the year, standing as one of the most recognizable figures in the history of the sport and probably the most popular Swedish sportsman of all-time. And we could go on, with other worldwide sports where Swedes have excelled internationally including swimming (Therese Alshammar, Emma Ingelström), golf (Hall-of-Famer Annika Sörenstam), sailing, table tennis (World and Olympic Champion Jan-Ove Waldner), canoeing (eight-times Olympic Champion Gert Fredriksson), speed skating (triple Olympic gold medallist Tomas Gustafson), horse riding and cycling (Gösta Pettersson, 1971 Giro Winner).
Yet, none of those sports can claim the lead in number of Olympic medals brought to the country, since that achievement belongs to….wrestling, with 84, the last two added at the London Olympics.
Star Athletes
Zlatan Ibrahimović (Football)
From just another tall kid of Bosnian and Croatian origins to the top of the list of most identifiable Swedes, the life of the Mälmo-born striker is worthy of a best-seller book. Growing up on a city brimming with foreign-background inhabitants, Zlatan learned to stand up by himself since his early years as a black belt in taekwondo and those lessons stayed with him over a brilliant if controversial football career. Undeniably, a stunning total of 11 national titles in 13 seasons playing for six of the biggest clubs in Europe (well, 5 plus PSG) and four top scorer awards attest the proficiency of one of the best players of his generation and an unique forward with skills and swiftness rare for a 1,95m man. Moreover, in Sweden, Ibrahimović is revered for his exploits with a national team he captains today after more than 100 games, 51 goals and appearances in two World Cups (2002, 20006) and three European Championships (2004, 2008, 2012).
Always a distinctive figure, the 33-year-old, considered nine times the best Swedish footballer of the year, was recently named the second-best sportsperson of all-time in the country and famously retorted that he should have occupied the first five positions, perfectly displaying the character and personality that has motivated several confrontations with colleagues, coaches and adversaries over the years. When his career ends, his charismatic behaviour will define his legacy in the sport as much as the fantastic executions he’s capable on the pitch (), but Zlatan wouldn’t like it any other way.

An acrobatic move by Zlatan Ibrahimović that resulted on a stunning goal against England in 2013

Henrik Lundqvist (Ice Hockey)
The man many in New York call “King Henrik” was born on a city, Åre, primarily renowned for the alpine skiing facilities. However, Henrik and his twin brother, Joel, always preferred hockey, and it wasn’t long until they got to play for their favourite team, Göteborg-based Frölunda HC. Seven years and two league titles later (2003, 2005), their paths eventually separated and, with nothing else to prove at home, the goaltender moved on to face the best game after game.
Representing the New York Rangers since 2005, after the team selected him at the 2000 NHL draft, Henrik Lundqvist has been a mainstay for the honoured franchise since his rookie season and is undoubtedly one of the best in the world on his position, boasting a Vezina Trophy (awarded to the best NHL goalie in 2012) and four other nominations. To this day, he’s still pursuing the chance to return the Stanley Cup to the Big Apple and he keeps improving his legacy and club-records as the best goalkeeper in the “blueshirts” history.
The 32-year-old has also consistently embodied his country’s efforts on the world scale since the youth levels, with his biggest accomplishment coming at the 2006 Torino Olympics where he backstopped the Swedes to the gold medal. Since the retirement of legendary defenseman Nicklas Lidström, in 2012, Lundqvist inherited the role of Sweden’s prominent ice hockey player and he led his country to a silver medal on the 2014 Olympic tournament. His performances in Sochi further increased his popularity amongst the compatriots, but he has always been a fan favourite everywhere by way of his various community and charity enterprises coupled with a calm and friendly presence on and off the ice.
Charlotte Kalla (cross-country skiing)

Charlotte Kalla during a race at the Sochi Olympic Games

Sweden’s role on cross-country’s history has always been that of party crashers, the nation that craves to surprise the successful neighbours that have historically dominated the sport. Charlotte Kalla personifies that spirit perfectly and the native of Tärendö, a small village on the far north of Sweden, has thereby managed to build an impressive career during the era of two legends of the sport, Poland’s Justyna Kowalczyk and Norway’s Marit Bjørgen, the most medalled female athlete in Winter Olympics’ history. The 27-year-old skier has almost 30 World Cup podiums since his debut in 2006 and a total of 5 World Championships medals, all of them gathered in team events. In fact, along with teammates Ida Ingemarsdotter, Emma Wikén and Anna Hagg, Kalla broke a fifty-four year gold medal drought for Sweden on the Women’s 4 x 5km relay event, with the team taking top honours on the competition of the 2014 Olympics through a performance that won the prize for most significant Swedish sports achievement of the year.
However, collective success aside, it was Kalla’s individual excellence that fuelled the most important results of her career, namely the gold medal in the 10km freestyle race of the 2010 Olympics, and the silver medals in the 15 km skiathlon and 10km classic races of the 2014 Sochi Games. The overall triumph at the 2007-2008 edition of the Tour de Ski, on her debut edition, is another important mark on Kalla’s résumé and, with the main rivals nearing retirement, her best years may still ahead.
Others: Lotta Schelin (Women’s Football), Jonas Jerebko (Basketball), Henrik Zetterberg (Ice Hockey), Frida Hansdotter (Alpine Skiing), Sarah Sjöström (Swimming) Johan Olsson, Marcus Hellner (cross-country skiing), Fredrik Lööf (Sailing), Lisa Nordén (Triathlon), Henrik Stenson (Golf)
Venues
Since the Stockholm Olympic Games, held in 1912, Sweden’s track record hosting top international events (European and World Championships) is truly remarkable, with the wealth spread across dozens of disciplines. Without surprise, this organizational expertise has been translated into the development of a sheer amount of modern, state-of-the-art sporting facilities that enable the populations an easy and comfortable access to high-level sport competitions year-round and country-wide.

The Ullevi during the opening ceremony of the Gothia Cup

To start, obvious emphasis on the Friends Arena, located on the municipality of Solna (Stockholm’s urban region). The new national stadium, which substituted the nearby Räsunda, host of the 1958 World Cup final, can hold up to 50,000 and has a retractable roof that can turn it into the biggest indoor venue in the Nordic countries. Opened in 2012, the arena, beyond the matches of the national football team, sees the home games of AIK, concerts and has welcomed the final of the 2013 UEFA Women’s European Championship.
The second biggest stadium in the country is the 43,000-seats Ullevi, in Gothenburg, built for the 1958 World Cup and a place that has hosted multiple football European finals as well as the European and World Athletic Championships. Nonetheless, the women’s national team and the city’s football clubs play at the 2009’ Gamla Ullevi, which was raised on the grounds of the old facility by the same name, and has 15,000 seats. Recent constructions are also the Tele2 Arena (2013), in Stockholm, the home of Djurgårdens IF and Hammarby IF with a capacity for 33,000, and the Swedbandk Stadium (2009), in Mälmo, a facility that holds 24,000.
In terms of (truly) indoor venues, the most important is the unmistakable Stockholm Globe Arena, the largest hemispherical building in the World, and a facility with up to 13,500 seats for ice hockey games. Several World Championships and other international ice hockey games have taken place at the Globe since 1989, but the Handball, Volleyball and Basketball European Championships were also held there. However, the capital’s ice hockey teams (Djurgårdens IF and AIK) usually play their home games at the adjacent Hovet, a 9,000 capacity arena. The 2008-opened Mälmo Arena comes in second-place by capacity (15,000 seats) in the country and is the home of the Mälmo Redhawks, the city’s ice hockey team.

The Stockholm Globe Arena iluminated at night

The Scandinavium, in Gothenburg, completes the podium, as the 14,000 seats venue, opened in 1972, has received over the years swimming, ice skating and athletics events, for example, while turning into the place Frölunda HC calls home. Moreover, the country’s ice hockey significance defines the existence of nine other indoor venues with over 7,000 seats, almost all built during the 2000’s. Thus, towns like Linköping, Lund, Norrköping, Kalmar, Halmstad, Helsingborg, Gävle and Karlstad commonly share the burden of hosting international events with Sweden’s three main city centres.
In respect to winter sports, the main hubs are Falun, Östersund and Åre, all situated in central Sweden. The first two cities regularly welcome World Cup events of the Nordic ski sports (cross-country, ski jumping, nordic vombined) and biathlon, respectively, and have organized the discipline’s World Championships several times over the years, while Åre takes part in the Alpine Skiing World Cup frequently.
Yearly Events
There’s no shortage of sporting events staged yearly on Sweden. Elite sport leagues like football’s Allsvenskan, running from late March to the beginning of November, and hockey’s SEL (season from September to April) provide excitement all over the country, from Mälmo, in the southeast coast, to Lulea, almost on the Arctic Circle, but there’s also the chance to attend a game of bandy (October-March) or handball (September-May). Others events to note are:
Vikingarännet, traditional long-distance ice skating race
Uppsala-Stockholm, January

The Vikingarännet, a 80 km ice skating race on the frozen Lake Mälaren linking Uppsala and Stockholm

Rally Sweden, World Rally Championships
Värmland region, February
World Cup event, Cross-Country skiing
Östersund, February
Vasaloppet, traditional long- distance (90km) cross-country ski race
Dalarna, March
World Cup event, Alpine Skiing
Åre, March
Scandinavian Masters, Golf
Mälmo, June
Stockholm Marathon, Athletics
Stockholm, June

A view of the tennis Swedish Open’s main court, in Båstad

Speedway Grand Prix of Sweden, motorcycle speedway
Målilla (Kalmar), June
Gothia Cup, youth football
Gothenburg, July
Swedish Open, Tennis
Båstad, July
Speedway Grand Prix of Scandinavia, motorcycle speedway
Solna (Friends Arena), September

European Tour of Sports – Denmark

The Basics

Population: 5.7 M

Area: 42.9 km2 (excluding Greenland and Faroe Islands)

Capital: Copenhagen

Summer Olympic Medals: 179 (43G-68S-68B)

Winter Olympic Medals: 1 (0G-1S-0B)

Popular sports

Football is the most played sport in Denmark, but the Danish national sport is probably another one, with its popularity being equally spread over both genres. Handball was invented in Denmark more than one hundred years ago and today is the favourite winter sport, with the national teams’ achievements dragging millions to the front of the televisions. The sport has delivered three gold medals in Olympic Games (1996, 2000, 2004), all won by the ladies, who enjoyed the greater success during the 90’s, but in the last few years the Men’s team has performed better, becoming European Champions in 2008 and 2012, and winning the silver medals at the 2011 and 2013 World Championships. A third European title was snagged in January 2014, when Denmark lost with France the final of the competition it hosted. At the club level, the most successful clubs are, at the women’s level, Viborg HK, winner of several European competitions in the last few years, including three Champions League, and KIF Kolding, on the men’s side.

The 1992 European Champions

There are over 300.000 football players in Denmark and both national teams have qualified regularly for European and World Championships. The biggest success in Danish football history was the surprising victory on the 1992 Men’s European Championship played in neighbouring Sweden, a conquest only possible after the exclusion of Yugoslavia from the tournament, the team that had eliminated Denmark in the qualification round. Three years later, Denmark won the Confederations Cup, while the best showing at the World Cup came in 1998, with a quarter-final defeat to Brazil. Legendary goalkeeper Peter Schmeichel is the most capped player in Denmark’s history, while Michael Laudrup is considered the best Danish footballer to ever play. The women’s team won the European Championship in 1979. FC Copenhagen, funded in 1992, is the most successful club in Denmark, with ten National Championships and four appearances on the Champions League group phase, with their rivals Brondby IF leading the way on the women’s side.

Water sports play a big part on Denmark’s sporting landscape, with sailing, rowing, canoeing and swimming being responsible for dozens of Olympic medals. Paul Elvstrom, a sailer who competed in several classes over the years, won a record four Olympic gold medals, while Eskild Ebbesen, a member of the rowing men’s lightweight coxless fours, was able to medal in five consecutive Summer Games, from 1996 to 2012, including taking gold in the first three participations. Racket sports such as badminton, tennis and table tennis are also popular, while cycling, the second sport on the country on number of Olympic medals conquered, is a strong suit of the Danes, both at the road and track levels, with Copenhagen having hosted the 2011 Road World Championships and Bjarne Riis winning the Tour de France in 1996. The last few years have seen an increase in the profile of golf, especially among the older side of the population.

Rowing’s lightweight coxless fours

The only medal collected by Denmark in the Winter Olympics belongs to the 1998 Women’s curling team, a sport where Denmark has enjoyed some international success. The popularity of ice hockey is growing, with Denmark producing increasingly more talented players, a fact substantiated on the near dozen of players already taking part of the NHL.

Star Athletes

Mikkel Hansen (Handball)

Son of Flemming Hansen, who represented the Danish Team at the 1984 Olympics, the 27-year-old Helsingor native started his professional career at GOG Svendborg in 2005, the year the team won the Danish Cup, and became a national champion in 2007, before moving to Spanish giants FC Barcelona in 2008. His debut with the national team came in the same year and, since then, he has been a key member of all its successes, as the left back was nominated to the all-star team of the 2012 European Championship, won by the Danes, and was the overall top scorer (along with an all-star) on the 2011 World Championship, participating also on the 2013 World tournament and on the 2014 European Championship. At the club level, his resume is equally impressive, including two Spanish Cups and two Spanish Super Cups with Barcelona, two more Danish Championships (2011, 2012) and Danish Cups (2010, 2011) from his time at AG Kobenhavn, and a French Championship (2013) and French Cup (2014) won with Paris St. Germain Handball, where he currently plays. Nicknamed “The Hammer”, Hansen was awarded the title of World Handball player of the year in 2011, becoming the first Danish man to be honoured with that distinction.

Mikkel Hansen playing for Denmark

Caroline Wozniacki (Tennis)

The daughter of two Polish immigrants who played professional sports, Wozniacki enjoyed a successful junior career and debuted on the WTA Tour at the young age of 15, at the 2005 Cincinatti Open. However, her breakthrough season came only in 2008, the year she won her first Tour title, in Stockholm, added two more victories, in New Haven and on the Japan Open, and finished ranked 12th in the world, feats that earned her the award of WTA Newcomer of the year.

Caroline Wozniacki waves to the crowd

In 2009, her rise continued, with Wozniacki becoming the first Danish woman to reach a Grand Slam final, at the US Open, and ending the season on the top 5. In 2010 and 2011, by virtue of her six titles in both seasons, she finished the year as the World number 1 player, holding the position for 67 weeks despite failing to grasp another Grand Slam final. Since 2012, her form has declined, even if she played another Grand Slam final at the 2014 US Open. At the age of 24, the Odense native, who plays a game based on solid defensive skills, is by far the most successful Danish tennis player of all-time, currently holding 22 WTA Tour trophies and the 8th place on the WTA rankings.

Lotte Friis (Swimming)

Denmark has three world-class female swimmers and any of them could hold this prominent position. Lotte Friis edged Jeanette Ottesen Gray and Rikke Møller Pedersen in my selection simply because she’s the one with an Olympic Medal. Born in the municipality of Allerød in 1988, Friis is a freestyle swimmer who excels in long distances, having won multiple medals on international competitions. Her biggest accomplishment is the bronze medal on the 800 m freestyle race of the 2008 Beijing Olympics, but she has also shined on the sport’s second most important tournament, the long course World Championships, taking the victory on the 2009 Rome 800m freestyle race and at the 2011 Shangai 1500m event, the silver medals from the 2011 800 m and 2009 1500 m races, as well as from both events at the Barcelona 2013 World Championships. Six gold medals in European Championships, both on long and short course competitions, and several other prizes complete her medal record. Friis was considered the Danish Sports Name of the year in 2009.

Others: Jakob Fuglsang (Cycling), Christian Eriksen (Football), Tom Kristensen (Motorsports), Frans Nielsen (Ice Hockey), Rikke Moller Pedersen, Jeanette Ottesen-Gray (Swimming), Nicki Pedersen (Motorcycle speedway)

Venues

The main venue in Denmark is the beautifully-situated Telia Parken in Copenhagen, the country’s national football stadium, with 38,000 seats, and the home ground of FC Copenhagen. The stadium has a retractable roof and has hosted multiple concerts and sport events, including two football European Finals (Cup Winner’s Cup 1994, UEFA Cup 200) and two record-breaking handball matches. The Brondby Stadium, in the Greater Copenhagen area, and the NRGi Stadium, in Aarhus, also hold more than 20.000 people.

Jyske Bank Boxen, Herning

The Jyske Bank Boxen, an arena in Herning with capacity for 15.000 people, is the most important indoor venue in Denmark, having hosted the 2014 Handball Men’s European Championship Final, the corresponding women’s tournament in 2010, and the European Swimming Championships (short course) in 2013. The Ballerup Super Arena, in Ballerup, part of the northern urban region of Copenhagen, holds 7500 people for concerts and is the only indoor velodrome in Denmark, having received several cycling track events, including the World Championships in 2002 and 2010. The Gigantium, in Aalborg, is a modern facility that holds over 5000 people and is used by the city’s handball and ice hockey teams.

Aarhus, the second largest city in Denmark and the country’s main port, has welcomed several international sailing events in recent years and will host the 2018 ISAF Sailing World Championships at the Aarhus Yachting Harbour.

Yearly Events

Beyond the football, handball and ice hockey matches disputed almost year-round all over the country, these are the main annual events held in Denmark:

Vojens Speedway Club during the Grand Prix

Made in Denmark European Tour Tournament (Golf)

August, Himmerland Golf & Spa Resort, close to Aalborg

Tour of Denmark (Cycling)

August

Nordic FIM Speedway Grand Prix (Motorcycle Speedway)

September, Vojens Speedway Center, Vojens

BWF Super Series Premier Denmark Open (Badminton)

October, Arena Fyn, Odense