LONDON (Reuters) - A look at the teamsheet before Russia dished out a 37-16 lesson to Britain rather than the statistics afterwards gave a clue as to what was the key factor in the result on Monday. Height.
Beijing silver medallists Russia’s shortest two players are 1.73 metres, while eight of Britain’s squad of 14 are shorter than that and three also stand at the same height.
“It’s a massive advantage,” British left back Kathryn Fudge, the second tallest in the team at 1.83 metres, told Reuters.
”The taller, the stronger, the better. However skilful you are, if there’s someone 6 ft 2 ins (1.88 m) jumping over you there’s nothing you can do.
“These are top players,” she added of their opponents, four times the world champions who were berated by their coach as “boiled sausages” for taking their foot off the pedal in the second half.
Team Britain was only formed after London won the Olympics in July 2005 and consists of players chosen via a recruitment programme called “Sporting Giants”, where tall athletes were picked for handball, rowing and volleyball.
In fact the home team only have two 6 ft (1.83 m) athletes, one of whom stands in goal. Russia’s squad, in contrast, is littered with players around 1.80 metres.
When 1.90 metre left back Victoria Zhilinskayte came near diminutive winger Zoe van der Weel the words mismatch sprung to mind, though not for the feisty Brit.
“If you’re strong it’s fine,” she told Reuters, laughing as a few more Russian giants swamped her in the media area.
“We’ve been training in the gym three times a week. I won’t say that there isn’t a big advantage with height in handball, but it’s not essential for the sport,” the nippy right wing said.
Speed was more prominent in South Korea’s narrow 25-24 win against three-times champions Denmark, the Beijing bronze medallists profiting from a series of fast breaks to move nearer to quarter-final qualification.
South Korea top Group B with four points as do Russia in Group A, where Croatia recorded their first win by beating Angola 28-23 to leave the Africans winless and second-bottom, above Britain.
French President Francois Hollande watched on as his nation staged a last-gasp comeback to draw with Spain 18-18, Allison Pineau firing in a low slinger with six seconds on the clock.
Brazil and Montenegro were due on court later in Group A while in Group B Olympic champions Norway, hoping to shrug off their opening loss to the France, were scheduled to play Sweden in the final game.
Editing by Alison Williams