Jumping for a packed Håkons Hall
A packed Håkons Hall in Lillehammer will welcome the reigning champions of the Machineseeker EHF Champions League, Barça, in the next instalment of the Match of the Week, and Elverum Handball are game for the challenge.
Sure, the Norwegian champions lost their first three matches this season, by a combined amount of 29 goals, but they have always applied pressure and pressed the correct buttons against strong opponents when making the 90-kilometre trip to the city that hosted the 1994 Winter Olympic Games.
“It gives that extra boost of confidence needed whenever you score a goal or stop the opponent in defence, because it is truly a special place. We always give 100% when we play in the Champions League, but here, things are special, are magical, you get that extra shot of adrenaline,” says Tobias Grøndahl, Elverum’s centre back.
Elverum are not only the Norwegian champions in five of the past six season, but also ace marketing stunts. For the game against the Spanish giants, they also enlisted Grøndahl for a special one-minute clip, a “scary”, but fun challenge.
The best young player from the previous season of the Machineseeker EHF Champions League put his skis on and dared the fans to come to the arena if he jumps at least 100 metres on the Lysgårdsbakken, the hill that hosted the ski jumping competition at the 1994 Winter Olympic Games.
The jump was 130 metres long, therefore Grøndahl kept his side of the bargain, now it is up for the Norwegian fans to come and cheer for Elverum, who are still searching their first win of the season.
"Show that we can do anything"
“It was really scary, but it was a very fun, fun thing to do. We wanted to show the fans that we can do anything, so yeah, it was a nice moment. There are also plenty of activities near the Hakons Hall before the match against Barça, so I hope everybody will have plenty of fun,” adds Grøndahl.
Pressed to say if he would have had a career in ski jumping, the centre back politely said that handball is his passion. Yet sport is at the centre of the Norwegian culture, with amazing results in a plethora of different sports over the past years.
Take the Norway women’s handball team for example, an eight-time EHF EURO winner, a four-time world champion and a two-time Olympic champion. The men’s handball team has also secured the silver at the EHF EURO and at the World Championship in the past decade.
“Yes, it seems Norway are very good at sports, because there is a very good system in place, you can play whatever you like. It does not matter if you want to have a career or not, there are places where you can do sports. In handball, many of the former stars are taking up coaching, so the tradition, or the baton, is passed to the younger generation.”
“We had plenty of success in alpine skiing, ski jumping, handball, golf or football right now. Just look what Erling Haaland is doing in football, or Viktor Hovland is achieving in golf. It is amazing,” says Grøndahl.
But at the core of sports in Norway, there is a need to have fun. Ask any Norwegian handball player and they will confirm. The 21-year-old centre back himself likes to have fun on the court and has been integral to Elverum’s success over the past few years. This is already his fourth season in the European premium competition, making his debut at 17.
Grøndahl has already scored 125 goals in the competition in four seasons, with the previous one being his best, with 81 goals scored, enough to finish eighth in the top goal scorer standings.
“There are not many players that make their debuts at such a young age in the Champions League, so I am very grateful for that. It really helped me develop as a player, improve my skills and get better on the court.”
“However, teams have started to pay more attention to me, I am better defended and it gets tougher to score. But, of course, this is a welcome challenge, because this is the only way I can improve, so I am very happy about how these years at Elverum shaped me,” added the 21-year-old centre back.
Grøndahl only has seven goals this season, therefore it is just high time for him to deliver a masterpiece, like he did so many times in the previous one. He has been steadily progressing in the three games Elverum lost, so the game against Barça should be the one he is targeting.
“They are a very, very good team, they won the Champions League twice in a row, so this speaks volumes and I do not need to say much, because their results are just amazing. They have a strong side, if Dika Mem, for example, does not play well, there are others who can deliver a good match, therefore it is difficult to stop them.
“But we will try, of course, especially in these special conditions. We are all ready for the challenge and we are eager to play good and get a good result. These games, against powerhouses, are always special,” concludes Grøndahl.