As the Netherlands women’s beach handball team arrived for the final, dramatic day of YOG competition at Parque Sarmiento, they sang loudly at the bustling crowds moving towards the arena.
“We always sing when we go to the match,” Netherlands’ team coach, Harald Mulder, said. “It started when we were walking from the hotel to the court and we decided to sing Het Wilhelmus (the Netherlands national anthem). It’s like going into battle.”
Such camaraderie has been evident throughout the six days of this sport making its debut appearance at the Youth Olympic Games: on the eve of the competition, the Argentinian women’s team even designed their own blue-and-white hairbands.
“We first made them for the World Cup last year,” said Gisella Bonomi (ARG). “We all make them. I think that’s our thing - it represents us.”
This passionate vibe has added to an event that brought crowds of up to 1,300 fans to the central court during the early stages, with Argentina’s women losing only one group match before progressing to the second, main group round in which the top four teams qualified for the semifinals. Meanwhile, the men’s team benefited from an equally boisterous home support and, alongside Croatia, Spain and Portugal, they eventually progressed to the semifinals. Julian Santos, left-wing for the Argentina men’s team, said:
A big crowd gives us strength. It’s nice to win so we can give a victory to the people. Julian Santos Argentina - Julian Santos Argentina
During the women’s semifinal - where a queue of several hundred fans, unable to secure a seat, snaked through the park hoping to catch a brief glimpse of the action - Argentina defeated Hungary in a penalty shootout, while Croatia moved past Netherlands 2-0, a result that put them one step ahead of their men’s side, who were defeated 2-1 by Spain. In the other men’s semifinal, Portugal beat Argentina by the same scoreline.
“It’s the first time we are better than the Croatia boys’ team,” said goalkeeper Petra Lovrencevic (CRO). “ (There is a rivalry between the boys and girls) a little bit, but we are also good teammates - we support them and they support us.”
It was not enough. Croatia were swept aside 2-0 in the gold medal match by a powerful Argentina side buoyed by a rowdy home crowd and a powerful performance from the impressive Bonomi.
Spain’s men made harder work of it, beating Portugal 2-1 after a nerve-shredding penalty shootout, though there was plenty to sing about for all the athletes competing at the Parque Sarmiento.
“It means so much for me because I can believe we’ll be in Paris (2024 Olympic Games),” said Rebeka Benzsay after Hungary had beaten Netherlands 2-0 in the women’s bronze-medal match. “I think everyone who does sport here (dreams they) can play in the Olympic Games.
We are always singing. We haven’t got good voices but we sing anyway - it makes us happy and it makes us believe we can do anything. Rebeka Benzsay Hungary - Rebeka Benzsay Hungary
On the evidence of the Buenos Aires 2018 Youth Olympic Games, the beach handballers will continue hitting the high notes for some time yet.