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14.05.2019, 11:41
Grit Jurack - “I only wanted to play”
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FEATURE: Grit Jurack, Germany’s record holder for appearances and goals, is part of the EHF’s ‘Handball Inspires Generations’ campaign and explains how handball has impacted her life
 

Grit Jurack - “I only wanted to play”

There are some numbers which highlight just how impressive Grit Jurack’s handball career was - 3, 18, 306, 1579. The stories behind them make her handball journey all the more remarkable.

Three times, in 2006, 2009 and 2010, the 41-year-old former player won the EHF Champions League with former Danish club Viborg HK. 

For almost 18 years, until October 2012, Jurack was a handball professional and in that time she set appearance and goal records for the German women’s team with 306 international matches and 1579 goals. Only two male players, Frank-Michael Wahl and Christian Schwarzer, have had more caps for Germany than Jurack.

It could have all been different, however, as Jurack was not originally supposed to be a handball player. Born in Leipzig, she was a track and field athlete, and in the sports system of former East Germany, she was set to pursue a throwing event, such as discus, javelin or shot-putter. 

Grit Jurack was not inspired to be like the Soviet athletes dominating the sport at that time and was on the lookout for something different.

“After seven years of track and field, I switched to handball. I could run, jump and throw, so I only needed to learn how to pass. Unfortunately, I never learnt how to play defence,” Jurack says with a smile on her face. The most important coach in her younger days was Maik Nowak, he helped ensure she could join a sports school in Leipzig at the age of 16 and he brought her to SC Leipzig, a famous and successful handball club.

After just a few months, her talent was discovered and Jurack began her journey through Germany’s youth national teams. 

“I recognized that I was better than the others in our club, but in contrast to all the others, I had not been interested in handball as a spectator. I never watched matches of our famous teams or stars at Leipzig, I only wanted to play,” Jurack says.

At the age of 18, she was “really lucky” to make her senior debut for Germany just months before the 1996 Atlanta Olympic Games and she impressed enough to be selected as the youngest player of the German Olympic team. 

“Unfortunately, I was only an Olympian twice in my career, this is a pity,” she says. In 2008, Jurack was the leader of the Germans at Beijing, but they were knocked out in the preliminary round after some unlucky defeats.

But in contrast to those dark moments, handball proved to be the best thing that ever happened to her. 

A true ambassador

Although handball was not the only part of Jurack’s life, it has remained important since her playing days came to an end. 

After studying sports management, she working in the marketing department of her former club Viborg, in 2015 she became the team manager of the German national team for a short period and at the same time was part of the first class to graduate from the European Handball Manager Course in 2016. 

Grit is a natural choice for the ‘Handball Inspires Generations’ campaign as she has taken on ambassadorial roles throughout the years for the EHF EURO, Women’s EHF Champions League and the 2017 Women’s World Championship in Germany. 

Today, she coaches a youth team with kids aged four to nine years and works as a sports journalist for the German-Danish newspaper Flensborg Avis. Her husband Michael is an athletic coach for VELUX EHF Champions League participants SG Flensburg-Handewitt, so handball is still clearly a major part of her life. 

“I had the chance to go abroad, to travel the world, to meet so many interesting people and make so many friends thanks to handball,” Jurack says. 

Her first foreign adventure was a loan move to Danish side Ikast/Bording, at a time when the Danish league was a melting pot of world stars. 

“I played with and against so many big names, it was simply incredible.” After another year at her home club HC Leipzig, she went to Denmark again in 2004, joining Viborg HK. For eight more years, Denmark became her second home. 

“I really love this country, the people, the weather, nature and the mentality - and of course the handball,” Jurack says. 

Appreciation away from home

In 2010, her first son Lukas was born in Denmark and Jurack took just nine weeks to return to court in the EHF Champions League semi-final against Larvik, scoring three goals and helping her side reach her third final against Romanian side Valcea. 

Three months after Lukas’ birth, she was the top scorer of the finals with an incredible 16 goals, including eleven in the second leg in Bucharest, which was a memorable match for Jurack for a reason besides the obvious. 

“We won the first leg on home court 28:21 and we were ahead throughout the match in Romania. After the final whistle was blown, the Romanian fans gave us a standing ovation, they were true handball lovers and not only a home crowd.”

However, this match is not part of her top three handball highlights. 

“My clear number one is the bronze medal match of the 2007 World Championship in Paris, in which we had been down by eight goals several times against Romania and finally won bronze after extra time.” 

Number two was the second leg of the EHF Champions League Final in 2009 when Viborg had lost the first leg against Györ 24:26 on home ground. 

“Everything was prepared for a great Györ party in Veszprém, the noise and atmosphere were incredible, but we won 26:23 and took the trophy home.” 

And the third most remarkable match ended in disappointment: “We had lost a Champions League group match in 2011 41:33 in Volgograd, so we needed to win the return match by eight goals to proceed.

“Everybody who lived in a house with the number eight got free entrance, everything in this match was built around the number eight - I scored 17 goals, but we won by only seven and were eliminated.”

But even those setbacks inspired Jurack and the views she shares on her playing days include a piece of advice for the next generation of players. 

“I was so happy to represent my club and my country in handball, nobody will ever take away those experiences from me.

“The most important thing in handball, like in all sports, is to motivate yourself permanently, then you can be successful in the best sport in the world.”


TEXT: Björn Pazen / cor
 
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