Almost three decades ago, in 1992, handball legend Talant Dujshebaev won the gold medal at the Barcelona Olympic Games, as part of the Unified Team. A few months later, his first son was born: Alex.
That very same year, Talant signed for the Spanish league team, Club Balonmano Cantabria. It had the potential to be a transfer like so many others before it, but the move went on to change the future of Spanish handball.
The 1992 Olympics did not represent the final glorious moment for the Dujshebaev family.
At Atlanta 1996, Talant was playing for the Spanish national team that went on to win the Olympic bronze medal. A year later, his second son Dani was born.
Talant once again stepped onto an Olympic podium at Sydney 2000, winning a second gold medal. But, that was not the end of the family’s Olympic story. ‘To be continued’ now has a date attached to it: 24 July 2021, when the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Handball competition begins.
Although they have never competed at an Olympics, Talant’s sons have continued their father’s legacy on the court. Their most recent success saw them lift the bronze medal in January at the 2021 Handball World Championship in Egypt.
"This bronze tastes so good because this team deserved it. We lost only one game by a single goal in the whole tournament. It would have been so tough for us leave Egypt without a medal, because from the first day to the last, we fought for it," said Alex Dujshebaev in an exclusive interview with Tokyo 2020.
A shared solitude
Although Spain still maintained an outstanding level in Egypt, this World Championship was different to previous ones. It was Spain’s first tournament since the outbreak of COVID-19.
The tournament was held without spectators, making it harder for the players to perform.
"Playing with no crowd is complicated. When you see the infrastructure, the hallways, you imagine what it would be like with spectators. But that is the situation we are living in and we can’t complain," said the right-back, who finished the tournament as Spain’s second-highest goalscorer (34) and the highest number of assists (30).
"We have tried to cheer each other up even more so that we can focus on every game. And things didn’t go badly.”
In fact, the unity within the Spanish team is what Dujshebaev enjoyed most about the World Championship.
"We say we truly are a team, but we are more than that - we are a family. That's the feeling we have because every day we spend together is special."
Alex and Dani Dujshebaev: Handball in the blood
The Spanish team may be a family, but Alex has real bloodlines within the national team. His brother, Dani, who is five years his junior, has won back-to-back European gold medals alongside him, in addition to the latest World Championship bronze. They also play in the same club, Poland’s Kielce.
Alex saw the evolution of his brother first-hand, as the younger sibling shone at the World Championship.
"I’m really proud of him. I’m happy about everything he has done in this tournament. I think Dani is very important to us as a team, and from the first game until the last he has grown up. I think he has taken a step forward," he said.
"In this World Championship he was in great shape and playing at a great level, and I hope that continues in the next tournaments - helping and growing up. It would help us a lot in the next competition with the Hispanos (the Spanish men’s national team’s nickname), the Olympic Games."
Spain’s golden goal in Tokyo
“The Olympics are the pinnacle of sport. We have spoken about them for many years. This generation’s goal is the Olympic Games.”
It is clear that the Tokyo 2020 Games are special to Dujshebaev.
Despite shining in the lead-up to the Games, Spain failed to qualify for Rio 2016 by a single goal. However, the 2020 European Championship saw them not only win the title but also qualify for Tokyo. The Games will be the final swansong of players who have almost become legends, including the captain, Raúl Entrerríos.
It’s another reason Spain have their sights set on Tokyo 2020.
We'd be lying ourselves if we said we aren't dreaming of winning the gold medal in Tokyo.
The prize for this generation will be a gold Olympic medal, according to Dujshebaev.
"It makes me feel funny saying this, but we don't have any other goal at Tokyo 2020 other than the gold medal. We are going to go for it. We know this generation deserves something big and we are going to work for it. We will go step-by-step, first trying to qualify from the group phase, then the later rounds... so we will see. But we'd be lying ourselves if we said we aren't dreaming of winning the gold medal in Tokyo."
If the dream does come true, this generation will write another chapter in its own history, because the Spanish men's handball team has never reached an Olympic final. Spain's best result at the Olympics is a bronze medal, a feat they have repeated three times (1996, 2000 and 2008).
Following in the footsteps of Talant Dujshebaev
Alex’s father is the sole family member to have tasted Olympic glory. And he has always demonstrated his love for the Games to his sons.
"I was just a child when he played at the Olympics, but I have some memories of those moments, particularly the last ones... cheering him in front of the TV. To be honest, my father always told me that representing your country at the Olympics is the pinnacle of what an athlete can aspire to. And more so if you can win a medal. That's something really, really special," recalled Alex.
"We always compete at European or World Championships... but I think the Olympic Games surpass that. They are on another level, far above any other competition. For an athlete, they are that special.”
Both of Talant’s sons could make their debut at Tokyo 2020.
"He says to us we have to try to enjoy the Olympics to the max, and that this experience is very different to any other, more intense, so we need to be focused and give the best of ourselves in order to win a medal," explained the eldest brother.
Throughout his career, Alex has always been judged by his surname - and that is something that has not always been positive. Despite this, he has always represented his family with pride.
"(Being a Dujshebaev) has its drawbacks and its positive points. When we were younger, it was harder. For better or for worse, people always looked at you through a magnifying glass. When I did something positive, it was a moment of pride. But when I did something negative, people were harder on me, they criticised me more. But it’s something I have always dealt with. The most important thing for me is that I have always been proud of who I am and that I am my feather’s son,” said Alex.
It was 17 months ago when Alex became a father himself. Although it may be too soon to say, he does not want to force his child to follow in the Dujshebaev family legacy.
"As a father, I simply want him to be happy. I'll try to support him in whatever he wants. Obviously, I'll always try to help him to become a better person. But he will make his own decisions."
Indirectly, this attitude is also something that he has inherited from his father.
"This mindset, this attitude, also comes from my father, because he always supported me. He has helped me and always told me I could do whatever I wanted and in the way that I wanted," he recalled.
And so he did what he wanted in the way that he wanted to, which eventually led him to follow in his father’s footsteps - on a path that he had begun building in 1992, without knowing that 1992 would forever change Spanish handball.