HANDBALL!!! Each professional sport has its celebrity teams, no matter where you go. In the US, we have the Pittsburgh Steelers and Green Bay Packers in American Football, while in basketball, we have the Oklahoma City Thunder and the Boston Celtics, just to name a few. In Germany, we take pride in our household and globalized sport, soccer. There we have the likes of Bayern Munich, 1899 Hoffenheim, Mainz and Frankfurt. But we also have another sport that has been gaining popularity in the last decade and has recently made news because of a feat that is unthinkable, but was accomplished. That sport is handball, and the team that has made headlines recently was one located in the far northern part of Germany is Kiel. A capital of Schleswig-Holstein and located one hour by train southeast of Flensburg, Kiel is famous for its city center and Horn harbor, where ships from Scandanavia and the UK come to dock. The city is also famous for its handball team, the THW Kiel Zebras. Established in 1904, the team had won 17 German Handball Premere League Titles, seven German Cup championships, and two Champions League titles (2007 and 2010). Apart from its northern rival, the SG Flensburg-Handewitt, it also has rivals in the Berlin Foxes and the SV Hamburg team.
This year, the Zebras wrote the history books in handball. The team went undefeated in regular season play, winning its 18th German Premere League Championship, finishing well ahead of second place Flensburg-Handewitt and third place Berlin. That was completed with its final game against Gummersbach, winning the match 39-29 to win its 34th game on 2 June. This followed its eighth German Cup Championship a month earlier on 5 May, narrowly defeating Flensburg-Handewitt 33-31 in a hard fought match that ended in a complete 3-game sweep of its northern rival. And finally, at the Lanxess Arena in Cologne on 27 May, Kiel defeated Athletico Madrid (Spain) 26-21 to win its third Champions League Title. No other handball team has ever won the triple crown up until THW Kiel’s accomplishment of the impossible. However, the Zebras join other teams in German and European sports in the ranks of the Triple Crown winners. For instance in soccer, both FC Bayern Munich (men) and FFC Frankfurt (women) have won the triple three times on three separate occasions, but the Glasgow Rangers in Scottish soccer has won the Triple in men’s soccer seven times, the last time it happened being in 2003. More interesting is the fact that Kiel’s feat surpasses even the failed attempts of any German basketball team to win the Triple. Maccabi Tel Aviv has won the Triple five times, the last time being in 2005.
This leads to the question of what the triple crown is. If a team wins a triple, like Kiel has done this past season, then it means that the team won the regular season championship, the national cup and one championship on an international level. This is only applicable in sports that receive international recognition, which are soccer, basketball (in Europe), volleyball, ice hockey (in Europe) and now handball. It does not apply to any American sports, although it did host the internationally popular Lewis Cup in professional soccer from 1925 until its last championship in 1963. There, Fall River Marksman (Massachusetts) and Brookhattan (New York) won Triples consisting of the Lewis Cup, the National Cup and the American Soccer League Championship in 1930 and 1945, respectively.
With Kiel entering uncharted territory, the next task is to go for a repeat of the Triple, which is next to impossible to do. Teams that have fallen to the Zebras in all three competitive championships are gearing up to take revenge on the team, including its northern rival from Flensburg, which might give the team its first defeat since SC Magdeburg defeated them on 4 May 2011, 30-24. But nevertheless, it will be interesting to see how Kiel will defend all three titles and make history even further, perhaps even eclipsing the soccer teams of Bayern Munich and FFC Frankfurt.
The Flensburg Files would like to congratulate the two Schleswig-Holstein handball profis on their successful 2012 run- SG Flensburg-Handewitt for its second place finish and most importantly, THW Kiel for its perfect season. Since both have qualified for the Champions League in the coming season, we would like to wish them best of luck in the international competition and all the best in the next season.
For those wanting to know more about handball, here is a simple guide to the game, which you can click on.