Handball’s goalkeeping maestro
Regarded as the best handball goalkeeper of the 20th century, Andrei Lavrov is the only player in his sport to win three Olympic handball golds; more remarkably still, he did so in the colours of three different teams.
Olympic odyssey from Seoul to Athens
Born on 26 March 1962, in Krasnodar, in the same region of Russia as Sochi, which is set to host the 2014 Olympic Winter Games, Andrei Lavrov, was already making waves on the Soviet handball scene by the time he was 16, thanks to his goalmouth exploits for his hometown club, SKIF. He was soon selected to represent the USSR, winning his first Olympic title in Seoul in 1988, where the Soviet team defeated the host nation, South Korea 32-25 in the final. At Barcelona 1992, Lavrov was again called into action, this time wearing the colours of the Unified Team, made up of 12 of the successor states of the former Soviet Union. His sparkling performances were integral to the composite team reaching the final on 8 August, where they edged out Sweden by a score of 22-20. At Sydney 2000, by now aged 38, Lavrov captained Russia (a role he held between 1995 and 2004), and was also chosen to be the delegation’s flag-bearer for the Opening Ceremony. Again he helped his team to the final, again the opponents were Sweden, and again the margin of victory was two points (28-26), as Lavrov claimed a third Olympic gold. But that wasn’t the end of his Olympic odyssey. Despite being well into his forties, Lavrov was still the number one choice to defend the Russian goal at Athens 2004, though this time he could only help them to third place, adding a bronze medal to go with his three Olympic golds.
Lavrov also won World Championship titles with Russia in 1993 and 1997, along with silver medals at the Worlds in 1990 (with the USSR) and 1999, while in 1996, he helped Russia claim the European crown. This extraordinary keeper, who at times appeared unbeatable, enjoyed a career that extended for more than quarter of a century (1978-2005), representing clubs in Russia, France, Croatia and Germany, winning silverware with all of them, and leaving an indelible mark wherever he played.
The No 1 custodian
In 2001, Andrei Lavrov was voted the best Russian handball player of the 20th century, while the International Handball Federation placed him third in their own rankings for the same period, ranking him as the best goalkeeper. Great in stature (1.98m) and in talent, Lavrov, who is currently Vice President of the Russian Handball Union, remains one of the sport’s most admired icons the world over.