Handball's image in the United States doesn't exactly please the sport's elite participants. It's a vision of senior citizens in short shorts smacking a blue ball around with their hands. But in Europe, handball is a highly competitive team sport played by great athletes who both take—and deliver—solid blows.
According to usateamhandball.org, "Handball, widely known as team handball in the United States, is played in 159 nations by 39 million people...[and] many people link elements of basketball, soccer and lacrosse to the sport. It is fast, physical and exciting."
For gameplay, there are two teams, each with six players and a goalie, on a court approximately 66 by 131 feet, where the players dribble, pass and shoot the ball into a goal for two 30-minute halves.
We caught up with Gary Hines, star player for U.S. Team Handball, to get educated on this high-flying sport and learn how he's training to qualify for the 2012 London Olympics.
STACK: What sports did you play growing up, and how did you get involved with team handball?
Gary Hines: Growing up, I played many sports, mainly in the Boys & Girls Club. On an organized level, I played football, basketball and track in high school. I was introduced to handball when I was 14 through the Boys & Girls Club.
STACK: Could you talk about the athleticism involved in playing team handball?
GH: Team handball is a very athletic sport, and if you're not in shape, you cannot play this game up to par. It is fast-paced [with] a lot of running and scoring the entire game. Also, it's a very physical game, so if you're weak and don't like contact sports, this is not the sport for you.
STACK: Tell us about your skill development for team handball.
GH: It was all new in the beginning, having to get used to the rules. I started out training maybe a couple times a week with a coach who introduced handball at the Boys & Girls Club I attended. The older people around me saw that I had potential and encouraged me to stick with it. I got serious and started giving training my all. When I learned all I could learn from playing here on the Junior National Team and Men's National Team, I began to get noticed by other countries and earned contracts playing in Europe, where I learned even more.
STACK: What other sports benefited your game, through skills transferred to team handball?
GH: Basketball, because of the dribbling that is allowed. Also football, because of the contact that is involved with offense and defense during the game.
STACK: Tell us about your training for Olympic Team Handball.
GH: I started training very seriously around 2004, because I had my mind made up to be the best player in the USA. I am in the weight room Monday through Friday. Monday, Wednesday, Friday, I do upper body, chest, arms, etc. [Hines performs three sets of 10 reps for all of the muscles in his upper body.] Tuesday and Thursday is lower body. Squats, Leg Press, Leg Extensions, Calf Raises, etc., all in three sets of 10. [In addition, Hines generally runs two miles or more three times a week.]
STACK: What is your nutrition plan?
GH: I mostly try to stay away from fast food. I'm not big on it at all. I make sure I have an even diet of meat, vegetables, fruit—pretty much the basic food groups. I drink a lot of water, juice and Gatorade. I'm not a fan of soda.
STACK: What are your personal goals over the next year, going toward London 2012?
GH: My goal for the next year is to continue to train, get better and perfect my craft on the court.
STACK: What are some team goals as London 2012 gets closer?
GH: Some team goals moving forward are competing in the Pan American Games, which we qualified for in June. Next is to get better as a team. [But] the biggest goal now is winning the Pan American Games. [A win will qualify the U.S. for the London 2012 Olympics.]
STACK: What is it like to represent the United States on a pro level?
GH: Being able to represent the USA gives me great honor. I never take it for granted, because I have been able to see so much and experience so much of the world that many people would only dream of or see on TV.
STACK: What advice would you give to a young athlete who wants to be an Olympian?
GH: [You need to] work harder than the average athlete, strive to be better than the best athletes and push yourself every day. Make the most of every opportunity, because they don't come every day. And most of all, nothing is handed to you. You have to go after what you want.
Hines also plays club handball in Germany, where he set a league record with 300 goals. Watch the highlight video below for some of the moves that have wowed fans all across Europe. And stay tuned for our interview with fellow national team player, Justin Key, who was first introduced to the sport while attending West Point.
Learn more about Team Handball at usateamhandball.org.
Photo Credit: Getty Images // Thinkstock