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22.05.2018, 16:40
Most beautiful of games
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BLOG: Ahead of the season's climax in Cologne, ehfTV commentator Tom Ó Brannagáin compares handball with the "most beautiful of theories"

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Most beautiful of games

I went to see Stephen Hawking talk in my university when I was a young fella. An acquaintance of mine told me that after his lecture I said: "How can you take that guy seriously with a voice like that?"

The young Tom Ó Brannagáin was always looking for a laugh, but it actually was a defence mechanism for when I found myself in unchartered territory. When I had boldly gone where no man, sorry, no-one, had gone before. The fact was that he spoke in a way that was impossible for my brain to fathom.

I need to compare things to understand them. I need to break them down into their constituent parts and rebuild them. This year he died and it led me to revisit some old physics lessons. I doubt I can understand them any better today, than when I studied them, but if I compare it to something that is extremely close to my heart, I have occasionally a glimpse into what these great minds are talking about.

As a young man Einstein expounded the theory of "Special Relativity". The theory illustrates that time does not pass identically for everyone. Ten years later he published "The General Theory of Relativity". The problem he had faced was that his original theory hadn't fit with Newton's contention that space was a great empty container, a large box which enclosed the universe through which all objects ran true until a force obliged their trajectory to curve. Newton called this force; the force of gravity, but couldn't hypothesise why this force existed between things so far away from each other with only space in between.

Einstein explained that this space was the gravitational field and that space was matter. We weren't inside a great empty container, but rather a constantly expanding universe. His theory describes a colourful and amazing world where universes explode, space collapses into black holes, time speeds and slows and the unlimited expansions of interstellar space ripple and sway like the surface of the sea. Lev Landau called it "the most beautiful of theories".

Lost? I was for a long time. But like the younger me, I needed something with which to compare it. I chose handball. Where else is the nature of physics so abundantly clear?

The running lines, the curve of the ball, the gravitational pull are all there for us to see. That small red and white object measuring 3x2 metres exerts a strong gravitational pull on every event that occurs on the handball court. It is the meaning of the game. To score more than the opposition is to win. The result is a magnificent movement of intricate pieces in a myriad of ways both artistic and physical. It is a momentous simplification of the world of physics.

Bodies spinning and hurtling through space, force applied and repelled, gravity exerted. The handball court becomes an entity that undulates, flexes, curves and twists. Even the elliptical lines that mark the court are reminiscent of the curved lines of space that dictate the manner in which all planets move in our universe. But this game is not contained within the lines. It is continuously and explosively moving outward in the great arenas that are filled with fans that are themselves vibrating and oscillating. Even those very arenas, the Lanxess being the giant star among all the others, curves to create the optimal view, just as space inclines. And it expands beyond that again, through media, to the viewer at home.

Ask yourselves if during a game, time passes equally for everyone. The momentum that winning gives us causes time to pass quicker than it should, but the pain of a bad performance can cause those last few moments to seem like an eternity. That experience is not just confined between the lines. For those of us with a marked interest, those feelings are all to clear.

Just as, often, we can see the curve of the horizon as we look over a shimmering sea at sunset (and not the straight line we drew as a kid), we realise that this universe can reveal itself to us in many ways, so it is that I see so much of what is around us in life in the game of handball.

This competition itself is in its 25th year of existence, yet the years of the EHF Champions League have themselves passed in the blink of an eye. In that time we have seen plenty of stars, black holes, big bangs, rockets, fireballs, players moving at the speed of light but always on the same wavelength, the terminology of space is within our game.

The lessons of life are in our sport.

Handball "matters".

But for me it is just "the most beautiful of games".


TEXT: Tom Ó Brannágain, ehftv commentator
 
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