This is me: Katrine Lunde
Usually we introduce our This is Me piece with some flowery text about how good the player is; touch on how certain experiences shaped their careers and throw in a few references of how many times they've won the EHF Champions League. This week, it's pointless because Katrine Lunde needs no introduction. Why? Because it's Katrine Lunde! It's a long one, but it's well, well worth it so read on and enjoy her story.
This is me: Katrine Lunde
When looking back over the wonderful and long handball career I have been lucky enough to enjoy until now, there are two people in particular who have played a massive role in shaping me as a goalkeeper and the person I am today.
One of these people came into my life a bit later in my story but the other was there from day one, my twin sister Kristine.
The journey of Kristine and me, how we were raised and played handball together is quite amazing.
I was born a few minutes earlier, which was always an important thing when we were younger, though maybe it is not so fun to be the older one anymore.
We were not born into a sporting family, in fact, you could say that my father almost hated sports, so it is very special that we ended up getting into handball and enjoying it to the extent we did.
We started to play when we were 9 or 10 years old because some girls in the class played and needed some more people for the team. We tried a lot of sports but handball was the one that stuck, maybe because we were doing it together and it was nicer to be on the same team, rather than playing an individual sport.
Where we grew up, in Kristiansand, there was not much elite sport. The handball team was playing in the third league, so we did not have any real idols to look up to but we enjoyed playing and as we got older, we began to realise that we were okay for our age.
But we were a small team and the concept of playing professionally when I was 15 or 16 never crossed my mind, even though we were beating some of the best teams in the country. I never thought that I had to be the best in handball, I just enjoyed it, enjoyed the positive feedback from people and enjoyed what succeeding at this level was giving back to us.
Lifelong training partner
In Norway, the indoor arenas would always close at the end of May and would not open again until after the summer, so we knew that to train by ourselves. Having Kristine by my side for this was perfect as we were always backing each other up.
We had a summer cabin, close to the city, and our father understood by that point what we wanted and supported us by buying handball goals. We prepared a court by the cabin and trained away there during the summer.
I also played a little bit on the court but I always preferred being in goal. Kikki and I always have this discussion and I think we will never find the real truth – I say I went into goal because nobody else wanted to and she says that everybody wanted to and I was the lucky one.
But we were always very compatible and when we were playing a game, we always had to be on the same team. It is hard to not kick your sister when you’re playing against each other, so we figured it was better to be on the same team, otherwise we would always be fighting.
When it came to playing senior handball, we were always quite relaxed and my sister is even more easy-going than I am. In one way, we knew that we wanted to pursue handball and had the chance to do it but we still didn’t have any grand ideas about being the very best.
We both went to university while we played in Kristiansand but when we decided to move to Denmark, we decided to focus fully on handball. It was the first time we moved abroad and we wanted to do it together, that was very important for us.
Because we were together so much, on and off the court, we were almost like an old couple. You find the one who is good for baking, the one who is good for cleaning, picking up the mail, you find this routine and in this sense, we are really good together.
We waited quite long before making the move to Aalborg, we were 24, because we wanted to make sure we made the right choice before going. We did not see ourselves as stars yet, we just wanted to find a good offer that we could live from, we could have gone the year before but we didn’t feel like it was the right club and I am glad we waited because we were not used to this game with agents and the like, it is a big world once you get involved with the strongest leagues.
Aalborg was amazing. It has the Gigantium, a big arena that was full for every match. With so many fans every week, some players may feel a bit of added pressure to deliver but to me it felt more like friends playing together.
The club was quite young, so we were just trying to make something happen and it was good to be a part of that as we had players arriving with experience of winning big titles, so we had a good mix in the team.
A team within a team
I do not remember too much about my first major championship with Norway, EHF EURO 2002, because my role there was not so much about playing, more about watching and learning.
Norway has such a great tradition of goalkeepers, so it was just great to be a part of it and a good experience to learn from these players.
I did not grow up with role models in sport but the closest thing to that would have been Cecilie Leganger. She produced some amazing performances from a very young age and was a star out in the big handball world but she is a great person also.
They do a great job with the Norwegian national team with building the squad and that was very important for me to survive when I first joined. I was part of a team within a team and it helped me to relax, realising that my fellow goalkeeper was the number one and I could learn from them as they were obligated to teach me.
But I can say that I was shy in my first few years and a bit scared of the more established players because they had achieved so much and it is not easy to come into this situation, but there were more players my age coming through as well, we had a talented generation, and that helped us all to eventually settle in.
The coaches saw the longer-term potential I had and my gradual progression into the team made it a lot easier for me to perform on the big occasions when I was finally the number one between the posts.
Competition for places
In recent years, there has always been a battle for the goalkeeper positions on the national team and it has taken time for me to accept that I will not always be chosen.
Your assignment within the team is not necessarily to always play well yourself but to ensure the other keepers also play well.
That is not easy as an athlete because you always want to be the one playing and playing well but I have also realised that you don’t want to be there if you are not good enough. So you try to build each other up but with my competitive genes, it is not always easy to do.
It is hard not knowing if you are going to be selected for a championship as you work all year for it but I have tried to be more relaxed about it and accept that if I am not good enough, I am not good enough and I will try harder for the next time.
The goalkeeper team within the Norwegian international team plays such a big role for me not only because of our success and what the players mean to me but because that is where the other major figure in this story comes into the picture – goalkeeper coach Mats Olsson.
Reading me better than I do
I remember the first time I met Mats, he just started to ask me some questions about how I am thinking and what I am doing.
Right away, he made me realise that I was thinking about the sport in a particular way and it was great to have someone like him to talk to about it. He made me think about the way I approached goalkeeping.
He opened me up to thinking about which strategies I had against certain players. For example, did I want them to shoot their favourite shot, or give them an open space to shoot into that they are not used to doing, which I can then cover again.
This was not something I thought much about before. I had my style but Mats convinced me that I could offer more, to ensure players could not read me as well.
His input had a huge impact on me and although it took time to implement, it was something I immediately thought about in training and it opened my mind up to being curious about how I could develop as a goalkeeper.
These questions and my curiosity is probably the reason I am still playing today, trying to understand why players are scoring on me in certain situations and I really enjoy this.
One of Mats’ strongest attributes is that he always pushes us goalkeepers. At first, his goal is that we could somehow concede no goals in a game. Of course, he soon realised this was not possible but we always strive to keep the score as low as possible.
Sometimes he reads me better than I read myself. He really understands me and knows which buttons to push and when to leave me alone, like during a match when I want to be left alone and stay in the zone.
The journey towards gold
It is not easy to remember each and every championship I have played in, there has been so many and they come so quickly, year in and year out, but there are a couple that stand out for me and the EHF EURO 2004 in Hungary is one of them.
I remember the atmosphere with the fans was amazing, I had a great time with the team and we won gold. That event gave me good vibes for Hungary, I really enjoyed everything around the tournament, the people, the arenas full of fans for every game.
That tournament came shortly after we lost out on the chance to qualify for the 2004 Olympics, which changed something for us. We immediately said that the next Olympics will be gold for us.
And from that point, every step we took towards the 2008 Olympics in Beijing was big, it was all about the journey for us.
Then when you arrive at the Olympic village for the first time, you realise just how different it is. Here, you go from being surrounded by just women handball players to all kinds of people in a variety of sports.
And as I got older, I began to make the most of the days between the games, knowing how to switch off. In 2008, I tried to stay focused the entire time but you miss so much, so I have become better at enjoying it a bit more and taking in the culture of the places we travel to.
We stormed through the competition in Beijing, beating everyone in our way en route to the final. South Korea gave us our toughest test in the semi-finals but we managed to turn that game around in the second half and there was no stopping us in the final against Russia.
The tournament was brilliant for me personally, in terms of my performances on court and the fact that we completed this four-year mission to claim gold, completing it alongside my sister.
Breaking the curse
I enjoyed an incredibly successful period with Viborg between 2007 and 2010, including two Champions League titles in a row but towards the end of my time there, I could not agree on things with the club and I had to think about what I wanted and where I wanted to go to. Györ was the dream for me at that point, I had experienced just how good Hungary could be for a handball player and I decided to go for it.
One of the difficult things about the move was my “divorce” from my sister Kristine, we would be playing for different clubs for the first time and it was strange to be moving so far away from her. It was a difficult decision to make and it was not the best period of our lives together but at that point we had different things to consider, we both had our boyfriends and I had to think about what I wanted as a player.
Györ was an amazing experience as a handball player. When I arrived at the club, they had still not managed to win a European title, having lost so many finals, and it had an impact on everyone.
The entire city wants the best for you and to succeed but when you always hear people talk about how we will never win the gold, it fucks with your brain a little bit.
It was difficult to settle in during my first year, with the language and the mentality of the team but gradually everyone realised that we did not have to do things exactly as they were done before, even if you are so close to the top. The club wanted to try something new and that led to a huge improvement in our play.
When we finally broke the curse and beat Buducnost in the 2013 final, it was unbelievable for us and the whole city and I am glad we managed to do it in the old home-and-away final format, which I have always enjoyed more.
The change to the EHF FINAL4 format the next year was greeted with plenty of anticipation from everyone at Györ. We knew it would basically be in our back garden and looked forward to seeing how it would be the first time. We were very well prepared for that event, playing well at the time and with an arena full of green, we were expecting a good show.
A full arena with spectators is, for me, the best feeling even. It does not matter whether they are supporting me or not, just feeling their passion gives me a lot of extra power, so these occasions are perfect for me.
I am not myself, I am acting
However, I actually prefer playing teams twice in quick succession, like in the old home-and-away format for the final, or the knockout rounds now because I enjoy the mind games that come with it. You have to use your head a bit more when you face the same opponents and I like this
It is like a game within the game. I am not myself, I am acting. I am a good person but there are times, more in the past perhaps, that players were afraid of me. I will not be unfair but I’ll do what it takes to win the match.
If I have to show emotions that are not actually there, I will, whatever it takes to give my team energy, get into my opponents’ heads and make them fear me, not knowing what I’m capable of.
Even though you come across many of the same faces at the top level and they know what I’m like off the court, they also know I’m a different person once I’m between the posts and that means there is always a sense of the unknown.
I have been very luck to play alongside some great defenders for my clubs and Norway, so it is not just down to me and we have to work together and tactically in these situations. It is a really nice feeling to know when you have somebody in the palm of your hands and when it happens, you really feel it.
Reunited in Kristiansand
I really enjoyed being out in the world, I feel blessed and lucky to have been to so many places abroad and met so many good people but during my second year in Rostov, I thought about my daughter and that it would be best to go home.
I figured my career would be coming to an end soon, so let’s see how it would be at Vipers. My sister was playing in my first season as well and it was unbelievable, one of the true highlights of my career, coming back to Kristiansand and playing with her was like our handball life coming full circle.
We had a really good season in terms of results and we really enjoyed it. I think it is crazy that she was able to come back and play two years after retiring but I am so happy she did. Although we were battling to win the title in Norway, in some way I could relax with Kristine in front of me – I knew what she wants, how she wants to play and we could work together in a way I cannot with anyone else.
There is no way I could have imagined the success we would enjoy with Vipers. I find it unbelievable that we have gone to the FINAL4 and I almost get tears in my eyes speaking about winning the Champions League last season.
Lifting this trophy with Vipers is something I never would have dreamt of. We had a really rough route to Budapest, going on tour to play so many games away from home for half a season because of COVID restrictions in Norway, then facing Rostov in the quarter-finals, it does not get tougher than that and it left us in brilliant shape for the FINAL4. It was unbelievable.
Support in difficult times
It is quite interesting, I have this inner motivation for this sport. Handball is a part of my life and a part of me, so not coming back to handball in difficult times would be unnatural, no matter what has happened.
It is my family, particularly the national team, who have been in my life for 20 years, so I have a great connection with them and they are a source of support.
A lot has happened in recent years and they have not been easy with injury and my miscarriage, also having my daughter, which is only a positive thing but requires support from family and friends, but at the end of the day, handball gives a lot back to me.
Five years after joining Vipers for what felt like the final stage of my career, I am still going strong and what motivates me is simple enough. I like to be on the court, I like training and I like the handball life.
I feel like my body is still fit enough and as long as I enjoy it, I will keep going. We’ll see how many more years that will be but as Mats Olsson told me: “Don’t stop because people think you are getting past a certain age, you must want to stop yourself.”
He told me he stopped playing too early and he regretted it, so I am going to keep going for as long as I feel like I can give something back.
This has been the way I approached my entire career since moving abroad for the first time, feeling that it is better to keep trying and if it doesn’t work, you can always change later. I hope I will realise it when the time comes, otherwise I hope someone will come to me and say “Katrine, it’s time.”