The man behind the handball star

FEATURE: Siarhei Rutenka entered the EHF EURO with a fever, but 13 goals against Sweden showed what he is really worth for the team

Photo: Brian Lindberg Jensen

Watching him play, it is easy to believe that Siarhei Rutenka was born holding the sticky ball in his hands, but the skilled Belarus left back has not always played handball - in fact it was a rather random choice.

"It was actually a coincidence that I ended up playing handball, as a child I was practising a sport called Sambo, which is a judo-based kind of wrestling, but when my grades in school got bad I stopped.

"Then I started playing basketball which was very difficult for me, because it's a contactless sport and I wasn't exactly used to that," he explains with a cheeky smile.

Despite his young age, Rutenka always knew, he wanted to play sports and when the ambition of his basketball team was not high enough for him, he took matters into his own hands – at the age of just 12.

"I was bored so I contacted the Olympics School in Minsk and asked if they had a class with basketball.

"They said no, but they had handball and I was like 'what is that' but I ended up joining.

"We would train twice day and go to school in between the sessions, so it was very professional, I held on to this because I liked the dynamic and contact in the sport very much."

Starting a handball adventure

Rutenka had obviously found the right sport for him, but what would have happened if he had not become a professional athlete?

He has never regretted choosing handball, and the alternative would have been quite different.

"I might have been in the shipping industry, because of my uncle, he worked on a ship and from his stories and photos it seemed like a lot of fun, so I once thought of going to university to study something about shipping."

But handball stole his heart and his life has ever since been an adventure that most people can only dream of.

He achieved considerable access on the international level, such as being the top scorer of the EHF EURO 2006 in Switzerland (where he still played for Slovenia) and raising the EHF Champions League trophy on five occasions (once with Celje and Barcelona, three time with Ciudad Real).

Even though he cannot name a favourite title, one of them holds a special memory.

"The one I won with Celje (in 2004) stands out a little, because it was a huge achievement for such a small handball country and I remember the fans showing up two days before the ticket sales even started, they got in line and would sleep in tents to make sure they had a ticket for the final match."

Language pride

Still there is more to the Belarusian key player than just trophies and being an outstanding man on the court.

Although he is very modest about it, he speaks the languages of several countries.

"Russian is my native language. My mom is from Russia and my dad from Ukraine. English I learned in school, Spanish and Slovenian due to handball.

"German is self-taught. I learned it by myself while I was playing in Slovenia, I thought that if someday I go to Germany to play handball, it would be good to know the language," he says without arrogance but with the spirit of an ambitious man.

"I would like to learn to speak Arabic, because I think it’s an interesting language."

But the almost to two-metre tall Rutenka is not only interested in learning languages and playing handball, he also has hobbies outside the court.

"I don't really have the time for a hobby right now, but if I had the time I would like to go diving, I've tried it before, but I want to improve and go deeper."

written by Claudia Bisconti / ts