London 2012: Handball star Louise Jukes hopes Olympics will leave a lasting legacy

GREAT Britain handball star Louise Jukes believes the upcoming Games are less about medals and more about leaving a lasting legacy as the sport prepares to take its bow in London.

GREAT Britain handball star Louise Jukes believes the upcoming Games are less about medals and more about leaving a lasting legacy as the sport prepares to take its bow in London.

Tomorrow will see Jukes and her team mates step out into the Copper Box to take on Montenegro in a Pool A group game (7.30pm) as history makers, being the nation’s first ever Olympic Handball team.

However, they do so in the knowledge that while GB medal prospects are being touted in other disciplines, Handball is one of eight sports classed by UK Sport as having no chance of winning a medal this summer.

But for Jukes, a former Harleston Magpies hockey player, who made a successful transition into Handball through Sporting Giants, a world class performance programme launched in 2007, the opportunity is more about pushing handball into the mainstream – or at least pulling it out of the unknown.

“We are the leaders of the sport in this country and I hope we can set a good example and showcase to the nation what the sport is all about and how great it is,” she said. “We are targeting to reach the quarter-finals and we believe that is realistic.

“I think medals may be too far just now for us but at future Games that could definitely be a possibility.

“That’s not to say we won’t be giving it our all to win a medal, but reaching the quarter-finals would be an achievement for us against teams with a greater history and more experience in the sport.

“For me the Games are more about inspiring young people who may be unsure of what sport to take up to give handball a go and see how different it is to other sports.”

And for team GB that is the real test as despite the sport being the most popular team sport for women in Europe, it has never caught on in Britain.

However, that could be set to change with London 2012 giving Handball the perfect platform to continue its burgeoning growth in popularity as one of the UK’s fastest growing sports.

Capacity crowds are expected to converge on the arena to see the team attempt to reach the quarter-finals from a group also including, Italy, France, South America and Angola, the 2011 African Games champions, who Team GB enjoyed a morale boosting victory over last year in a test event at the Olympic Arena.

 And for the 28-year-old the prospect of having the support of a home crowd behind them is an exciting factor which she hopes will help leave a lasting impression and legacy of the sport for future stars in years to come.

“At the test event we had two or three thousand people there but to have 10,000 or more at the actual Games is going to be unbelievable,” she added.

“Hopefully they will know when to scream because some of them would never have seen the sport before but I’m sure they will be really loud and will hopefully be intimidating for the other teams.

“The hope is that from the Games we will be able to develop a league in this country as well and have some superstars of the future coming from this sport.”