Louise’s Olympic gamble set to pay off
THE Great British handball team might not be the best known in London 2012, but their story rivals that of any competing in next year’s Olympics. Ipswich’s own Louise Jukes reveals the incredible journey to Dave Gooderham.
JUST four years ago, Louise Jukes had never even heard of handball.
But when she was offered the chance to leave her entire life behind to learn the sport, she had no hesitation.
Now her gamble to take part in next year’s London 2012 is set to pay off with Jukes a key member of Great Britain’s first ever female Olympic handball squad.
Her story is one of dedication and commitment to achieve her sporting dreams.
A national Under-18s hockey player, Jukes left behind her family, friends and job to move to Denmark and learn everything about the sport.
Terrible at first, her words not mine, Jukes battled through massive financial problems to now stand on the cusp of representing her country in her home Olympics.
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Reflecting on her incredible journey, she said: “When I started playing handball, I found I absolutely loved it.
“And then to play sport and get paid for it has always been a dream of mine.”
Jukes actually played with many of today’s Great Britain hockey team but admitted she was never likely to join them in the upper echelons of the sport.
But she was thrown a lifeline when the Sir Steve Redgrave Sporting Giants programme was launched looking to identify talented athletes in sports where Britain didn’t have a strong heritage.
Jukes said: “I had never played handball before, in fact I had never even seen it. I just wanted to give it a go as I was looking for a summer sport. When I wasn’t playing hockey, I didn’t know what to do with myself.
“But I loved it straight away, it is so fast and more aggressive than most women’s sport.”
After passing eight weeks of trials, Jukes was then offered the chance to take up the sport full-time in handball-loving Denmark, courtesy of funding from UK Sport.
Jukes never looked back and within six months she had been picked for the starting line-up of Great Britain’s first international in the modern era – scoring the first goal as the side beat Luxembourg 36 to 26.
She explained: “If we were going to make the Olympics, we had to be as competitive as possible and this meant moving to Scandinavia where handball was a massive sport and we could train full-time.
“It was difficult leaving my friends and family and job behind and go into the unknown. I had to share a small room with someone I hadn’t even really met before. The rooms were very basic and our beds were foot-to-foot. It was a bit like being at a boarding school.
“I could have actually been dropped by the team at any minute. Every month we were told whether we were being kept on – it was like living in the Big Brother house.”
Bigger problems came when the national economic crisis saw UK Sport slash its handball budget, but fortunately she secured a contract with a club in Norway before the UK team relocated to Crystal Palace in preparation for the London Olympics.
It has been an incredible four years for Jukes and recently she was given a reminder of how far she has come in such a short space of time.
She said: “We were shown a video of one of our first training sessions which was pretty embarrassing. I was terrible.
“It is not like playing something like football when anyone and everyone knows what to do. I had never even seen a handball match before. I got the ball and I didn’t know whether to bounce it like basketball or play netball.”