By Frank Haynes, Olympics Writer
Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - A dozen squads in both men's and women's team handball will converge on the Copper Box in Olympics Park, as the 2012 Summer Olympics are set to begin in London.
Competition begins on Saturday, July 28 and is expected to conclude on Sunday, Aug. 12. All semifinals and finals, as well as the men's quarterfinals, will shift to the Basketball Arena in Olympics Park.
Both the United States and Canada failed to qualify for these games in either event and neither country has ever won a medal in Olympic competition.
For the men, France is the reigning Olympic gold medal winner, having defeated Iceland in the finals of the 2008 Summer Games in Beijing, 28-23. It was a rematch of the 1992 bronze medal game in Barcelona in which France also prevailed over the Icelanders, doing so in a 24-20 final.
Croatia had won two of the previous three Olympic gold medals, turning the trick in Atlanta in 1996 and Athens in 2004.
No individual country other than the former Soviet Union (3) has won more than two Olympic gold medals in men's team handball, and Romania's four total medals also match the USSR are the most, although Romania has never won gold, last appearing in the championship game back in 1976.
Great Britain is making its Olympic debut in these games, and the team was placed in Group A along with current world champion France, Iceland, Sweden, Tunisia and Argentina.
In Group B, teams from Denmark, Serbia, Spain, Croatia, Hungary and Korea will all vie for the right to advance to the knockout matches, which start with the quarterfinal round. In knockout matches, teams can play up to two more periods of extra time if the score is tied at the match's end. If the deadlock is not broken by then, the match goes to sudden death shots.
On the women's side, Norway ended Denmark's three-olympiad gold-medal streak by defeating Russia in the 2008 championship game, 34-27. It was the Norwegians' first trip to the title tilt since appearing in back-to-back gold medal games in 1988 and 1992. Korea, which has claimed more women's Olympic medals in the sport than any country with six, won gold in both of those matchups.
The women's draw for these games features Group A combatants Montenegro, Russia, Croatia, Brazil, Angola and Great Britain, which is also making its first Olympic appearance, while Group B boasts squads from Norway, France, Spain, Denmark, Sweden and Korea.
The French are hoping to settle a score with the Norwegians, who beat them in the 2011 World Championship Game, 32-24. Russia had won the three previous world titles.
Team handball was introduced as an Olympic sport for men at the 1936 Summer Games in Berlin, but was dropped shortly thereafter. It would reappear 36 years later in its modern form at the 1972 Summer Olympics in Munich. Women's team handball was introduced at the 1976 Games in Montreal.
07/10 16:38:54 ET