The Karabatic brothers take on Rio 2016Article
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FEATURE: The brotherly bond between Nikola and Luka Karabatic is a special one and could be one of the key factors in France’s quest for a third consecutive Olympic gold at Rio 2016

The Karabatic brothers take on Rio 2016

After having watched them every day playing side by side at Paris Saint-Germain Handball this season, but also earlier at Aix and Montpellier, one forgets how special the bond is that links Nikola Karabatic to his younger brother Luka.

“You don't get tired of your brother, especially when you've got a relationship as strong as we have one,” says 32-year-old Nikola Karabatic.

“I think that being reunited in the same club, with both of us playing in the national team makes us enjoy these moments even more. Our relationship is as strong as it has ever been, even if we see each other every day.”

This is well the case as both will be competing for France at the Olympic Games in Rio. For Nikola it is already the third Olympics – and he returned with gold in 2008 and 2012 – for Luka it is a premiere.

However, Nikola is not worried at all that his brother and other younger teammates get overwhelmed.

“These guys have respect, they focus on the right things, they work hard. We know what we're going out for and that it would be a professional mistake to go just do some sightseeing.”

Not a rookie anymore

The final preparation games have gone well for France. At the Eurotournoi in Strasbourg last week they beat Egypt as well as Denmark and there is confidence in his words when Nikola speaks.

“We'll only know if we're ready when we enter the court for the first Olympic game, but for sure there have been good signs. The motivation is very high; for the younger players, for whom these Olympics are a first, and for those who have already won the title.”

However, when it comes to Luka Karabatic, who is likely to play an important role in France’s centre defence, he is not considered a first-timer anymore.

“He has been around the team for the past three seasons. He has somewhere in between; not yet a key player but definitely not a young one anymore,” says head coach Claude Onesta.

Luka Karabatic himself sounds more humble: “I have a lot to learn, even though I've been here for a while. This competition is still something completely new for me, and I'm lucky to be surrounded by players I know well and who will help us, the younger lads, make our way through it.”

Vital relationship for the team’s performance

Even though the Karabatic brothers share a special relationship, it does not put them outside the rest of the team. They have many close friends within, just like Adrien Dipanda whom they used to play with in Montpellier and who is also part of the Rio squad.

Asked about the place the brothers have in the squad, Onesta says that their bond only has positive impacts: “They don't like to talk a lot, but show their determination the way they act. They spend a lot of time together, but that doesn't mean they separate themselves from the others. They are really respectful of the others and very easy to live with day to day.”

No revenge feelings

In January, France failed to make it to the EHF EURO 2016 Semi-finals, but according to Nikola Karabatic there are no hard feelings anymore.

“We want to make history (by winning a third consecutive Olympic gold), and the EURO has long been forgotten,” he says. “We have learned from it, there were a lot of players injured and there is no desire for revenge.

“It’s a new competition, we'll see what happens but we definitely want to come back home with a gold medal.”

For key players such as Daniel Narcisse and Thierry Omeyer, the 2016 Games will very likely be their last – and they have sharpened their focus on gold even more.

“Three-time consecutive Olympic champions, that's something that has rarely been done before in history,” says Luka Karabatic. “We all want to win the gold medal, all of us for different reasons. But for sure, it's kind of special if you can help your friends write history.”

Writing history with your brother

Writing history by winning gold as a pair of brother, that is also what Nikola and Luka Karabatic want – and they have good examples to follow.

Bertrand and Guillaume Gille won gold with France in 2008 and 2012. Nikola Karabatic played at their side; Luka was only at home, watching the Games on TV.

On the other hand, there is also some brotherly opposition as Denmark’s Rene and Henrik Toft Hansen also aim for gold at Rio 2016.  

“The Olympics are the biggest competition, the ultimate goal for every athlete. It's like writing your name in the history books of sport,” says Nikola. “Of course, being on the top of the world with your brother, there's not much that can top this, is there?”

TEXT: Kevin Domas / ts