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22.03.2013, 12:33
The rising handball stars of 2013, part 11: Dajnis Kristopans
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The towering Latvian has caught the attention of the handball world
 

The rising handball stars of 2013, part 11: Dajnis Kristopans

Dajnis Kristopans, at 215cm, is one of the tallest handball players in the world and has the very unsuitable nickname “the tiny one”, but there is nothing tiny about the ambitious 22-year-old’s potential.

Latvia, a country not famous for its handball, has brought up a handball giant who is attracting the attention of some of Europe’s elite clubs.

His powerful left hand, deadly shots and three and a half years spent at Slovakian champions and EHF Cup participant Tatran Prešov have made Kristopans one of the most talented right backs in the world and one of the most sought after players on the handball market. However, the Latvian remains loyal to his current club.

“I signed the contract until 2015 here in Prešov and despite lot of offers I have received; I don’t feel ready yet for the biggest European clubs.

“I believe there is room for my improvement and Prešov gives me the opportunity to achieve it.

“I gain valuable experience in all three competitions we play (Slovak Extraliga, SEHA league and EHF Cup).

“I improve season by season and I believe one day the right time will come to accept the challenge, but it has not come yet. I am happy to play here.”

The early days at his current club were not easy. Dajnis was lucky to have Russia born, Czech international Alekander Radčenko by his side.

“He was like my father for the first three or four months after I arrived to Prešov.

“He helped me on and off the court, he arranged everything for me. I did not speak the language and I was a bit lost.”

Things have come a long way for Kristopans since then, now speaking perfect Slovak.

“For long time I couldn’t decide where to go. I chose Prešov, because I was young, without any experience. The year before I came, Prešov participated in the Champions League, a competition that attracts every handball player.”

It all started in Ludza, a small Latvian town near the border with Russia. Many asked why Dianis did not become a basketball player.

“Basketball is one of my favourite sports. I obviously tried playing it, but there was no basketball team in my hometown, so I stayed with handball.

“I started playing at the age of 10, the local coach was looking for players in our school and he persuaded me to come to training.

“I had a powerful shot already, much stronger than any of the guys in my age and I fell in love with handball. Ever since then I play it with love and passion.”

Latvia are no world beaters and Dajnis Kristopans is aware they are not favourites in Group 4 of the EHF EURO 2014 qualifying campaign.

However, he is more than excited about playing against his adopted home next month, at home in Latvia on 3 April in Dobele and then to Slovakia on 7 April in Považská Bystrica.

“It will be very special for me, I am already nervous. I have lot of friends here and to play against Slovakia will always feel different.

“We have nothing to lose, we can only surprise, but against Slovakia it will be a very difficult task.”

At the age of 22, he has become one of the leaders of the Latvian national team, and although the handball situation in Latvia does not look very positive at the moment, Kristopans seeks a better future.

“Latvia have many young players who have moved abroad, because we don’t have any professional team, everything is at an amateur level.

“Abroad, we can improve, work on ourselves and in few years’ time, with those experiences, we can maybe even surprise the handball world. I believe in better future for Latvian handball.”

Speaking about the future, Dajnis does not want to speculate about his next steps and remains very modest about his handball dreams.

“I want to play in the Champions League with Prešov, get into the group phase and possibly advance further.”

You do not meet players like Dajnis every day and having height like his has both pros and cons.

“My weakness is defence; I can definitely do a better job there.

“On the other hand, I consider my left hand and my powerful shot as something I can build on.

“I had special trainings to help improve my movement on the court, and it has helped my game in every aspect.”

When asking about life in Slovakia, Kristopans answers promptly, saying that it is beautiful, beautiful, beautiful. What does he like most about small country in the heart of Europe? Bryndzove halusky (potato dumplings – Slovakian national food), the music and Tatras.”

Kristopans and Prešov play their final EHF Cup game of the season on Saturday, 23 March against KIF Kolding and although Prešov cannot qualify for the quarter-finals, they can have a large impact on who does.


TEXT: Tomáš Čunčík / cor
 
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