With Olympic gold to the Belarus bench

FEATURE: In his fourth year as head coach Iouri Chevtsov has taken on the task of developing handball further in his mother country

Photo: Brian Lindberg Jensen

Photo: Brian Lindberg Jensen

The EHF EURO 2014 in Denmark is the first event of its kind for Belarus head coach Iouri Chevtsov, however the 54-year-old is by far no stranger to major handball tournaments.

Even more in his playing hey-days, the 1980s, he was a super star of the sport.

At the age of 18 he started playing as right wing for a SKA Minsk, just a few years later he had made it into the Soviet Union's national team with which he became world champion in 1982 and Olympic champion in 1988 - the latter victory he likes to refer to as 'the big one'.

But his handball career started because he was excluded of another sport.

When Chevtsov grew up in Sluzk in the centre of what is Belarus today, there were not many choices when it came to sports. Actually there were only two: cross country skiing and handball, but when the skies were handed out by teacher, Chevtsov was always left out - in the end he got the hint.

"I grew up in a small Belarusian village and the opportunities weren't great for us, but then I started playing handball and I sudden realised it was my call," he remembers.

Handball rapidly started to take over his life and at the age of 14 he joined the handball academy of top clup SKA Minsk.

"My career really began when I started playing at SKA Minsk and then, of course, it hit the best climax can happen to a handball player when I won Olympic gold in 1988 with the USSR national team."

When the 'iron curtain' fell, Chevtsov moved to Germany, first as a player, then for many years as successful coach, before he returned to Belarus in 2009 to take over at the helm of the national team.

"Of course the basic principle of handball is the same, but the sport has changed a lot over the years," he says about the more than three decades that he has played and coached handball.

"I keep absorbing and you have to keep your eyes open to learn new stuff.

"The experience I have now is built on my time playing for Minsk and the Soviet Union team and, of course, the coaching knowledge I gained in Germany."

Handball at grassroots' level

Belarus is a small nation with a population of just 9,5 million, but Chevtsov has taken on the task of increasing participation in handball.

"For me it is not just about being the head coach of the national team, but also about developing handball in Belarus.

"This tournament and the progress our national team enjoys, like qualifying for the EHF EURO 2014 and the World Championship 2013, are very good for the nation and for our handball development.

"Our youth handball has developed a lot over the recent years and if you look at the players it is very strong generation and it is good to see Belarus making progress in this way."

written by Mie Oestergaard / ts