Handball Is By Far The Coolest Olympic Sport You've Never Heard Of

London Olympics handball

Photo: Wikimedia Commons/Armin K├╝belbeck

The 2012 London Olympics are right around the corner, with the Games set to begin in late July.The world’s best athletes will be competing in 302 events in 26 different sports, ranging from canoeing to basketball to judo.

In the weeks leading up to the opening ceremony on July 27th, we’ll introduce you to some of the more obscure Olympic events. Today, it’s all about the up-tempo game of team handball.

Olympic team handball made its debut in 1936, but then disappeared until 1972. The sport is typically dominated by European countries.

Handball is played on a court 40 meters long and 20 meters wide. The goals are surrounded by a semi-circular crease, which only the goalkeeper can stand in.

The standard ball is 58-60 centimeters in circumference (smaller than a volleyball, but larger than a softball).

At the 2012 Olympics, team handball will be played at the Copper Box.

Here's a look at the official court of the 2012 Olympics.

The game is split into two periods of 30 minutes each, and matches are usually high scoring, with each team capable of over 25 or 30 goals a game. There are seven players per side, and each team gets one time out per period.

The game somewhat resembles basketball, with goals frequently scored via fast breaks. Players can either shoot, pass or dribble upon receiving the ball, but cannot enter the goalie crease. Players can also carry the ball, but only for three steps.

To beat the goalkeeper, players regularly take leaps into the goalie crease and fire shots from close range.

Defenders are allowed to make contact and put their bodies in the way of offensive players (again, similar to basketball), and any excessive contact results in a free throw from the spot of the foul.

When a foul denies a clear scoring opportunity, a penalty shot (seven-meter throw) is awarded. These can turn into a game of cat-and-mouse between the shooter and goalkeeper.

Here's another example of a seven-meter throw from the 2008 Beijing Games.

A team handball match is filled with non-stop action, making it one of the most exciting Olympic sports to watch this summer.

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