Jukes can’t wait for London 2012

Reporter gets a taste of things to come at Handball test event

IPSWICH handball star Louise Jukes bemoaned her team’s performance as Great Britain fell to a 31-23 defeat against Austria in the London Handball Cup yesterday.

Playing their second game in the official test event at the new Olympic handball arena, in Stratford, the hosts were always playing catch-up after making a sluggish start that saw them go 6-1 behind.

Jukes scored twice for Great Britain and, had it not been for some inspired goalkeeping from Petra Blazek, the scores could have been closer.

However, despite some late heroics from four-goal Zoe van der Weel, Britain missed out on a semi-final spot and have improvements to make ahead of the main event next summer.

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“I don’t think our performance was too good and we did not find our rhythm like we did in the victory against Angola (on Thursday) or like we have against the Austrians in the past,” said Jukes.

“Normally we defend better than we did yesterday and we did not help ourselves by having such a terrible start. The rest of the game was fairly even but I can’t explain our start.”

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Defeat aside, Jukes said the players could take a lot out of the experience and said it was good to iron out any weaknessess in the preparation event.

“Maybe, with the crowd behind us and in what was, for many of us, the biggest game of our careers, we were a little nervous, but it’s all about gaining experience right now and we are making strides every week,” she said.

“We are training centrally at Crystal Palace and the team has improved so much in a few months. I hope that can continue in the lead-up to next year.”

Hundreds of school children filled the handball stadium and were captivated by the high-octane action that they saw on the court as well as half-time entertainment in the form of a world champion freestyle footballer.

The test event replicated how next year’s event should run, right down to the national anthems which proved to be an emotional moment for all involved.

“It was really great with all the kids screaming and they were really close to the action, You could hear everything they were saying,” said Jukes.

“We all welled up a bit when we were signing the national anthem.

“It meant a lot to everyone and it is the biggest honour you can have being able to represent your country.

“It was very emotional so I can’t imagine what it will be like with millions more watching us next summer.”

RESULT aside, things could have not gone much better during my visit to the Olympics Handball test event – The London Handball Cup.

With eight months to go, Team GB have ample time to work on their weaknessess while, for the overall Olympic planning team, these test events are designed to replicate what will happen next July.

My first impressions were of an extremely slick and friendly operation that helped create a special buzz for me as I walked down the deserted path towards the Olympic Stadium and then right to the handball court.

Whether the staff remain as friendly and the operation stays as smooth come the Games, remains to be seen but the operation made for an extremely pleasant experience.

When I arrived on Friday morning I was met by an efficient security team that take you through the type of security checks that are commonplace in airports.

Yes, even the belt came off but I still buzzed as I went through the scanner, courtesy of the dictaphone in my back pocket.

I wanted to get there early, first of all to make sure I did not hit the queues and secondly to take it all in.

Granted, the atmosphere will be ten-times more special come next summer but my imagination was gripped and the anticipation I experienced as I wandered across the multi-coloured foam pathway towards the arena was not something I was expecting.

I was met by a brown and rather innocuous-looking rectangular building which on first glance, looked nothing special.

Once inside, I was met by a plethora of brightly-coloured coloured seats that stooped in a fairly intimidating way over the main playing area.

I took some time to take and tweet some pictures of the venue and, engrossed in my multi-media ways, did not realise how quickly the arena was filling up.

It soon became awash with excited school kids who enjoyed the interaction with the stadium announcer who engineered deafening screeches for the youngsters.

The sound levels that reverberated around the intimate arena made for a fantastic atmosphere and you would not have known that there were only a thousand or so people inside the building without looking.

Then came the players who looked so humbled to be cheered on by so many enthusiastic fans.

Minority sports such as handball are never going to get the exposure that football does and you could see how much this meant to them. The national anthem, which made the hair stand up on the back of my neck, albeit at a low-profile test event, was the cherry on top of the icing on the cake.

Then it was down to the action and the hosts were always fighting a losing battle after the big-boned Austrian’s romped into a 6-1 lead.

However, some questionable goalkeeping aside, Britain are not too far away and I think Louise Jukes was a tad harsh when dissecting her team’s performance.

But there can be no half-measures in the Olympics and off-court there certainly has not been any taken in terms of preparation and planning. The whole Olympic Park in Stratford is amazing.

If the ladies can match that on the pitch, then they won’t be too far away from hitting the podium.

- Follow Chris on Twitter @ChrisBramms

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