Desk Potato Sports: Live streams for Sept. 28-Oct. 5

The USOC Sports Scene is finally back after an Olympic/Paralympic break. Highlights from the prior week’s action include Brady Ellison’s fourth Archery World Cup Final victory. Consistency.

They don’t have much to offer by way of webcasts this week, though. They’ll have the men’s softball slow-pitch nationals, which is softball but is neither women’s nor fast-pitch and therefore not quite an Olympic sport.

What else is on? Frankly, not much. Silly me, launching this feature in the lull between the Summer Olympics and winter sports. But we did get some good news this week: beINSports has re-launched its apps — that’s particularly good news if you want to watch a ton of La Liga, Ligue 1 and Serie A.

All weekend

Curling: Yes, curling! Just in time for a couple of changes in the U.S. curling power rankings for men and women. The Stockholm Ladies Cup has no U.S. entries, but you can see Russia’s Anna Sidorova, Scotland’s Eve Muirhead, Canada’s Kaitlyn Lawes and a few good European and Asian teams. Check CurlingZone for the latest scheduleYouTube

Badminton: The Victor Korea Open has a few 2016 Olympic medalists and other top-10 players in the mix. Olympic Channel

Friday, Sept. 30

Soccer: Huge ACC men’s showdown between North Carolina and Syracuse. 7 p.m, ACC Digital (ESPN)

Saturday, Oct. 1

Soccer: Miss Newcastle United? Check them out in Championship play against Rotherham. 9:45 a.m., beINSports 4

Rugby: Watch New Zealand officially clinch The Rugby Championship, the Southern Hemisphere showdown for national teams. Again.

  • Australia at South Africa, 11:05 a.m., ESPN3
  • New Zealand at Argentina, 6:10 p.m., ESPN3

Ultimate: USA Ultimate semifinals. Go Truck Stop! All day, ESPN3 and USA Ultimate — event page has schedule (note Central Time)

Handball: In case you can’t get enough Barcelona, check out their handball team against THW Kiel in Champions League men’s play. Barca includes a couple of players from the Olympic silver medalist French national team. 1:30 p.m., beINSports 7

Sunday, Oct. 2

Ultimate: USA Ultimate finals.

  • Women’s championship, 1:30 p.m., ESPN3
  • Men’s championship, 4 p.m., ESPN3
  • Mixed championship, 11 p.m., ESPN3

Monday, Oct. 3

Tennis: WTA China Open, 2:30 a.m., ESPN3 (and other weekdays ahead)

And your sources for complete listings:

Olympic sports writing: 2004-2015

Selected features and interviews, plus coverage from several Olympics:


Sochi 2014

London 2012 (all Bleacher Report unless noted)

Vancouver 2010: Nordic sports and biathlon (all USA TODAY)

Beijing 2008: Everything, especially soccer (all USA TODAY)

Torino 2006 (USA TODAY)

Athlete interviews (all USA TODAY)

2016 medal projections: Handball (men’s)

The World Championships are all over bar the shouting. And people are shouting about Qatar — the country you know as the dubiously selected FIFA World Cup host in 2022 but now known as the country that bought a bunch of ringers for its handball team, bought a bunch of fans for this tournament and got so many questionable calls in its favor that one beaten opponent sarcastically applauded the refs.

That was after the powers that be realized Germany wasn’t in the tournament, so Oceania champion Australia was unceremoniously dumped so the handball-watching country could get a wild card.

Like South Korea’s soccer team after the 2002 World Cup, we need to ask whether Qatar will be able to duplicate this performance away from home. You have to figure refs in Rio won’t be quite as amenable to Qatar’s whims as they were in Qatar.

That said, I’m already second-guessing myself for omitting Brazil, the only team to place in the top 16 in the last two World Championships that isn’t listed here. They were 13th in 2013, 16th this year. So they’ll have fewer performance points than anyone else on the list, but if I gave them a five-point adjustment (as I did for Poland, based on more or less a gut feeling not related to them sarcastically applauding the refs), they would move ahead of Egypt.

But they’re a long shot in any case. France has won the last two Olympics and three of the last four world championships, the last by silencing Qatar in a tense final. They’re the obvious favorites.

Denmark has been a consistent European medalist and took silver in the 2011 and 2013 Worlds. They took fifth in Qatar, rebounding from quarterfinal disappointment to win their next two games.

The team that beat Denmark is Spain, which also managed to beat Qatar in group play. They lost to France in the semifinals and dropped the third-place game to Poland.

Croatia and Germany, both perennial powers, won their groups but lost in the quarterfinals. Germany, though, has had some qualification issues in recent tournaments.

And qualifying isn’t easy. Only 12 teams make it, including host Brazil, one team from the Americas, one team from Asia, and one team from Africa. That leaves a maximum of eight teams from Europe, and any team that makes it from there has a shot at a medal.

So we’ll need to revisit this after qualification. At least one team with more than a 30 percent chance of qualifying will miss out.

Until then, here’s the chart of contenders, with projected medalists: France, Denmark, Spain.

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2016 medal projections: Men’s handball

Never too soon, right?

Spain was the runaway winner in the just-concluded World Championship, beating Denmark 35-19 in the final. They lost a group-stage game to eventual third-place finisher Croatia but otherwise won with ease.

Two reasons not to anoint Spain as the 2016 favorites just yet:

1.  Spain hosted the tournament, a big advantage.

2. The tournament, Team Handball News reports, didn’t find teams at their sharpest. Some are rebuilding, some may have tournament fatigue.

That said, Spain is no stranger to the podium and usually makes the knockout rounds at least.

Our likely contenders are:

– Spain: World champion, 2012 Olympic quarterfinalist (lost 23-22 to eventual champion France).

France: Won nearly everything from 2008-2012 (2 Olympics, 2 Worlds, 1 European), then fell flat in Spain.

– Denmark: 2012 European champions, runners-up in 2011 and 2013 Worlds. Lost to Sweden in 2012 quarterfinals.

– Croatia: 1996 and 2004 Olympic champions. Third place in 2012 Oly and 2013 Worlds.

– Germany: Young team won 2013 group, ran into Spain in quarterfinals. Has the top-ranked domestic league (No. 2 is Spain.)

– Hungary: Ouch. Fourth place in the Olympics five times, with no medal. That includes 2012. Quarterfinalist in 2013.

– Slovenia: 2013 surprise — group winner and semifinalist.

– Russia: The Soviet Union was a handball power, and Russia has had some moments since the split. Not recently.

– Iceland: 2008 silver medalists won 2012 Oly group but fell in overtime to Hungary in quarterfinals. Not a factor in 2013, losing in round of 16.

– Sweden: Semifinalists at home in 2011. Runner-up in 2012 Oly. Failed to qualify for 2013 Worlds.

Tunisia: Well, not really a contender, but if you want a non-European team, this might be your only choice. European teams tend not to lose to non-Europeans. Great Britain, which doesn’t do much in handball but got in as host in 2012, was one exception. Another was Montenegro, which upset Sweden to reach the 2013 Worlds but then lost all five games, including matchups with Brazil and Argentina. Tunisia won three games in 2013, including one over Germany, but also lost to Brazil.

The IHF theoretically has rankings, but they don’t seem to have been updated in a couple of years.

Projection time:

2012 projection: Denmark, France, Spain

2012 actual: France, Sweden, Croatia

2013 Worlds: Spain, Denmark, Croatia

2016 projection: Denmark, Germany, Spain


Team handball: Cool sport meets cold reality

USA Team Handball video screen capture
USA Team Handball video screen capture

Like curling in the Winter Olympics, team handball (or, as the rest of the world calls it, “handball”) attracts a new wave of admirers with every Summer Olympics.

But curling maintains a foothold in the USA between Games, with plenty of Americans active on the World Curling Tour and a few players who can be competitive in World Championship and Olympic action.

Handball, on the other … um … hand, faces the same American exceptionalism soccer has faced over the years. It’s a foreign sport to us. The men’s World Championship starts Saturday, and even my six or seven hard-core readers probably didn’t know that until now. (Good news: You can watch it live … for nearly 40 Euros.)

To an extent, that’s part of the appeal for those of us seeking novel stories during the Olympics and finding great people like Iceland’s handball team.

Yet a lot of journalists, at least, have evangelized for the sport in the USA. Stefan Fatsis took up the cause in 2009, when USA Team Handball started fresh with new executives (including an MLS veteran, Steve Pastorino) and a new approach.

New leader Dieter Esch was willing to foot a lot of the bill himself. The USOC wasn’t. Esch and Pastorino tried to make it work for three years before departing. At least we were left with some nice videos:

In 2012, once again, everyone loved watching the Games. Bill Simmons wrote an ode to handball and handball player-ogling that was only somewhat patronizing. Wayne Drehs was able to convince his editor to let him do what my editors wouldn’t in 2008 — let him attend the final. And yes, Dave Barry was there.

Did USA Team Handball get a boost even without qualifying? Not exactly. Most updates from a sports federation’s CEO don’t include the words “dire financial straits.” Team Handball News takes a closer look at the sad numbers.

Want some good news? The International Handball Federation is chipping in at the grass-roots level.

I may have some more on the U.S. situation soon, but with the men’s World Championships coming up, it’s time to get …


Yes, with every World Championship, we’ll start piecing together medal projections for Rio 2016. Slowly.

But in the short term, we’re also going to look at the projections and Olympic results to preview events we would be watching if we could.

The basics:

  • The 2012 projections: Denmark, France, Spain.
  • 2012 reality: France, Sweden, Croatia.
  • Gold medal favorite Denmark was second in Group B behind Croatia, then lost to Sweden in the quarterfinals.
  • Bronze medal pick Spain finished third in Group B, took a 12-9 halftime lead over France in the quarterfinals but lost 23-22.
  • My guys from Iceland finished ahead of France in Group A but was upset in the quarterfinals by Hungary.

Handball doesn’t get a lot of English-language coverage. Team Handball News sees France cruising in Group A, with Denmark ahead of Iceland in Group B. Germany is rebuilding. Hungary, Spain and Croatia are in Group D? Group of Death?

Handball’s time has come

Do we even need to call it “team handball” any more? If we say “handball,” will people tune in expecting to see some dudes from Iceland and Hungary slapping a ball around on a racquetball court?

Four years after a small group of American reporters, including me, started chasing the Iceland handball team around, it seems more people are paying attention:

– Wired (UK) calls handball “the most awesome Olympic sport you might not be watching.”

– It made the roundup of espnW’s “surprisingly enjoyable Olympic sports.”

– Time calls my Icelandic guys “the most important team at the Olympics.”

– Even Usain Bolt is down with handball. Well, handball players.

Then we turn to Twitter:

(And yes, Posnanski joined me, Dan Steinberg and a couple of others among the crowd that has discovered the quotability of the Icelandic handballers.)

It’s not a perfect sport. It sometimes bogs down in a half-court set. The constant fouls can interrupt the flow of the game. And Iceland just lost.

But like any sport, it has good games and bad games. And have you not enjoyed the good games?

2012 ball sports: Yay, team! Except you folks with bats

Let’s see … I’ve done projections for archery, athletics, badminton … let’s call up the spreadsheet and see what’s next:


Oh … right.

Baseball and softball are gone from the Olympic program because, as we all know, it’s easier to turn an 18-hole golf course into an Olympic venue than it is to put a fence around a small part of an Olympic green and have baseball and softball games. Or something like that.

That still leaves us with a few team sports: Basketball, field hockey, soccer, handball, volleyball (beach and indoor) and water polo. (We’ll save synchronized swimming for later.)

Continue reading 2012 ball sports: Yay, team! Except you folks with bats

Midweek Myriad: Marta, Nadal, handball, 1260s, etc.

One of the joys of following a hundred sports or so is that you’re not stuck dissecting the Super Bowl to the point that it becomes joyless. Instead, we have all this:

Marta signs with Western New York. A WPS shocker. Good news from a media point of view because it means more of us will be paying attention to veteran Rochester reporter Jeff DiVeronica, who jokes on Twitter that Marta will push him up to 1,000 followers.

The conventional wisdom would be that Marta would sign with The Club Formerly And Still Partially Known As The Washington Freedom But Also With Magic Jack In The Name (TCFASPKATWFBAWMJITN) so that Dan Borislow would have a marquee player to market in South Florida and perhaps somewhere in Washington once the team hires marketing and sales staffs and finds venues in which to play. Instead, Borislow has given us the best WPS smack talk in the league’s brief history, via Our Game: “This came as a total surprise. I am glad she will be playing in the league. She will discover we are the team to beat, so I hope she is at the top of her game when she plays us.”

For all the talk in MLS about “Rivalry Week,” maybe we should be circling the calendar for TCFASPKATWFBAWMJITN’s visit to Rochester.

Nadal loses. And it’s a pity. Tennis could use a Grand Slam charge from the charismatic, humble Spaniard, but an injury has derailed his Australian Open campaign. Nadal didn’t want to use the injury as an excuse, but he wasn’t fooling opponent David Ferrer. Class acts all around. (NYT)

– Winter X Games time. And the NYT notes that several more X sports may be joining the Winter Olympic program. No word on women’s ski jumping, though that sport has a better-defined set of rules and so forth.

The Summer Olympics might be too big. The Winter Olympics aren’t, and it’s hard to begrudge slopestyle its place. But if the IOC adds the X sports without women’s ski jumping, the excuses will ring hollow.

Handball heaven. It’s only $20 away. At least the highlights are free, so I was able to scout semifinalist France in their win over my buddies from Iceland in a rematch of the 2008 Olympic final. (Dan Steinberg also enjoyed covering that team in Beijing and linked to my highest-read blog post ever.)

Iceland plays Croatia for fifth place on Friday. The semifinals the same day: France-Sweden, Denmark-Spain.

Also this weekend:

  • Cyclocross World Championships. The muddier, the better.
  • U.S. Figure Skating Championships, in my former hometown of Greensboro.
  • Luge World Championships. U.S. sliders not having a particularly good year.
  • Paralympic Athletics World Championships.
  • Millrose Games.
  • Strikeforce: Middleweight and welterweight title fights, plus Herschel Walker.
  • Final weekend of Tata Steel chess classic, where U.S. player Hikaru Nakamura shares the lead in an elite group.