The French women's handball team is in the final in Tokyo, just like in Rio five years ago, and with a great goalkeeper, and uncompromising woman, in the goal.
To that wave of frenzied excitement sweeping through the world of French collective sport this week in Tokyo, women's handball is bringing its own distinctive enthusiasm. The players coached by Olivier Krumbholz are, of course, continuing that old French team sport tradition of maintaining a watertight defense, a feature shared by all those teams from the triumphant French soccer team in the 1998 world cup all the way to this women's handball team in Tokyo today. The French women emerged victorious from their bitterly fought semi-final against Sweden (29-27) thanks to its defense and, notably (as is frequently the case in French handball), thanks to the performance of its goalkeeper Cléopâtre Darleux, supported by the Caisse d'Epargne Bretagne Pays de Loire.
And what a match! Cléopâtre, called in to replace Amandine Leynaud who’d played a tremendous game in the quarterfinals against the Netherlands, was entrusted with keeping up the good work. And she rose to the occasion, making the right saves at the right moments: seven shots saved in all, which had a decisive impact on the outcome of the match. We inevitably have in mind that particularly classy save at 26:24 against the formidable Jamina Roberts when France was playing with one member down and the game was drawing to an end. And Cléopâtre did it again, saving another shot from the same player! Psychology plays a major role in these individual contests... Indeed, shortly after Cléopâtre had joined the game she stopped a shot from the Swedish player at almost point-blank range, sowing doubt into the mind of the Scandinavian champion. This save was all the more remarkable as it was performed in the semi-final of such a high-level competition… with Cléopâtre even managing to catch the ball in her hands!
A pioneering collective agreement
Of course, it took the whole team to beat Sweden and propel themselves into the final, just as their predecessors had done in Rio. It’s only that Cléopâtre played a major role in this new achievement, something all the more important for her as she didn’t play in the competition in Brazil. Because this woman from Alsace who plays in the western French city of Brest is focused on her career as a high-level player while simultaneously living her life as a woman. This is unusual enough to be noteworthy, i.e. the fact that she refuses to sacrifice either and pursues both aspects of her life at the same time. It was in her capacity as a mother that she successfully campaigned to make French handball the first French professional women's sport to sign a collective agreement that includes maternity rights for players.
She has also been an ‘on-and-off’ member of the French team for some time, with two breaks in 2014-2017 and 2018-2020. And, each time, she had to win back her place. And now, here she is, at 32 years of age, in the final of the Olympic Games against Russia (Sunday 8 am)… to play the match of her life!
Copyright photo : KMSP