While most medical students appreciate a well-earned rest at the end of their first semester, Clara Dahlenburg spent her break battling it out with some of the world’s best handballers as a member of the Australian national team at the Busan International Women’s Friendship Handball Competition in South Korea.
The five-day event saw Australia’s Southern Stars face off against top-ranked teams from Denmark, Hungary, Taiwan, the USA and the host country, with Clara scoring a goal against the powerhouse USA team.
“Given that I’m still in the junior ranks, it was a huge honour to be selected for the Australian team,” said Clara, who only started playing handball four years ago.
“Handball is big in Europe and Asia, with the top players at the tournament being paid up to $300,000 per annum and team budgets topping $2.5 million.
“Here in Australia, it’s still an amateur sport with a team budget of zero so this was a fantastic opportunity to play against and, most importantly, to learn from the sport’s best professional athletes.”
While the final scoreboard reflected Australia’s underdog status, Clara says the tournament was highly successful as a developmental opportunity for the team.
“On the court, it was interesting to see how the European and Asian teams have different approaches to the game.
“Off the court, the contacts we made have resulted in Australia being invited to future competitions in the USA and Korea.
“Handball Australia and the Australian Olympic Committee have an eight-year plan to qualify for the 2024 Olympics via the Asian pathway so these international tournaments are an important stepping stone.”
In the meantime, Clara has set her sights on the Australian University Games which are taking place here on the Gold Coast next week, as Captain of the Bond Bullsharks’ Handball team.
“It’s been a couple of years since Bond has entered a handball team in the Uni Games so we’re hoping to stir up some interest again,” she said.
“The Bond Sports crew has been really helpful and we’ve already got a full team together with a number of international Study Abroad students signing up, including one who has played at an elite level.”
Having played for the ACT team through Years 11 and 12 studying the French Baccalaureate at Narrabundah College, Clara took up handball after a minor injury managed to derail her long-held interest in figure skating, gymnastics and grand slalom skiing.
“I was competing at a state level in figure skating and gymnastics when I broke my finger in a random accident that had nothing to do with either sport,” she said.
“My sister had started playing handball and one of her friends went to the Junior Olympics as a member of the Australian handball team so I decided to take it up.
“I absolutely love it and, while it has certainly grown in the few years that I’ve been involved, it would be great to see more players getting into it.
“As a fast-paced, dynamic contact sport that’s fun to play and watch, it’s certainly something that Australia should be good at!”
As a member of the Bond Elite Sport Program (BESP), Clara received the Elite Athlete Fund to help her get to South Korea for the Busan International Women’s Friendship Handball Competition.