On Tuesday the 17th August, we made history. Two members of the CASE Team – myself and Oliver Burdall, played the highest game of handball in the world.
Handball is a sport played by hitting a ball against a wall with your hands. I currently play handball for England and take the sport very seriously so it was no surprise that a handball ball found its way into my rucksack – I was determined to set the record for the highest game ever!
Now obviously you can’t just rock up to the top of the Alps and crack out a game of impromptu handball; the game must be adapted to the rigors of high altitude! To start with I scouted the hut one blustery morning and sourced the most appropriate wall, which happened to be the west face of Margherita Hut; it’s puckered iron surface providing an excellent playing surface. Being at the top of the Alps also meant the surroundings were superb – to the right the CASE members who could brave the subzero temperatures and a 2 kilometer sheer drop, on the left the haughty onlookers of mighty Mt Blanc and the resplendent Matterhorn. What an arena!
Your playing equipment at high altitude is also different. Whereas at Sea Level you’d traditionally play in shirts and shorts, at minus 10 it is advisable to furnish yourself with the traditional Alpine winter layering system.
The court was marked, or should I say carved out, with an ice axe and players must be made aware of any nearby crevasses and cliff top drops before play commences. Oliver Burdall stepped up to the plate as opposition as he had some impressive schoolboy handball experience. I threw the ball up and served a corker to the left corner. The game was on! We would be playing an intense one set match.
Right from the off it was clear that conventional play and traditional technique isn’t overly effective up here. The ball, which reacts much quicker off the wall than anticipated due to the reduced air pressure, doesn’t bounce a great deal off the snowy ground. You therefore have to try and volley as much as you can. 45mph winds add a new dimension to the game and footwork must be top drawer to adjust appropriately. But this should not be a problem once acclimatization and three beetroot juices a day have boosted your physiological systems!
It was a grueling match and at length, after much skillful back and forthing and several exhibitions of extreme flair, I managed to beat Oli by two clear points. It was a wonderful experience and a superb game. Many thanks to CASE for hosting the game and if you’d like to see the official ball, well it’s probably down in Alagna somewhere after blowing off the cliff in a post-match publicity shoot!