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French handballers Laura Glauser and Allison Pineau have one goal: gold in Tokyo!

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Laura Glauser is one of the French handball team's two goalkeepers, and her friend, Allison Pineau – crowned world player of the year by the IHF in 2009 – has been a mainstay on court for many years. Both of them have accepted the postponement of the Tokyo Olympic Games and, after being awarded the silver medal at Rio 2016, are determined to go one step further in 2021.

What was your first Olympic experience?

Laura Glauser: Rio 2016, incredible! It's really something that I'd always dreamt of before taking part. From the moment I knew I'd been selected, I was truly living my dream, even though we didn't take gold. But we won the first Olympic medal in women's handball, and that was just huge. My memories of Rio really are perfect; I really loved my Olympic Games. I was really invested throughout our whole competition, because goalkeepers have to do a huge amount of video analysis, so I worked hard on that. When I had half a day free, I wouldn't necessarily go to the Village to see what was going on there. But the country, and Rio, are the stuff dreams are made of, and at the end when we celebrated... it was so great.

Allison Pineau: For me, it was Beijing in 2008 where I was a young substitute. That was a defining moment for me. There were legendary athletes there, like Usain Bolt. There was also the frustration of our defeat in the quarter-finals against Russia – 32-31 after double overtime. But in Beijing I saw, experienced and discovered so many things.

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Four years ago in Rio, what were you lacking in the final against Russia?

L.G.: Fresh energy. The Russians played handball the way they know how, and we lacked the fresh energy needed to compete. We weren't far behind on the scoreboard, but they did lead throughout, and I think we also lacked composure.

A.P.: Yeah, fresh energy. At the time, the coach, Olivier Krumbholz, wasn't doing much squad rotation. The main players who had done all the heavy lifting had played a lot, and by the end of the competition, we were particularly tired. Before the final, I had played for eight hours, which is a long time for one competition. That's also what [helped bring] us the success we enjoyed later, giving everyone more game time. Our nerves really got the better of us during the tournament. In the end, we needed to score two or three more goals in order to compete. But we made history by winning the first Olympic medal in women's handball.

Two years later, you beat Russia in the Euro final and qualified for the Tokyo Games...

L.G.: We were so proud of that. We're still young, and when a team beats you once, twice, you really want to beat them when it matters and when the time is right. And that's what we did. It was a little bit of revenge for the Rio Olympics. The Euro was special for us; it was held in France and it was a qualifier for the Tokyo Olympics. It was important to us to play well... and to win.

A.P.: It was an incredible moment. It's still difficult today to comprehend what has been accomplished over the last three or four years. The best part was winning the first European title at home, which came after our victory over the world champions in 2017. And then ending it in Bercy, in front of the home fans, against Russia... It gives me goosebumps just talking about it.

What was your reaction when you heard that the Olympic Games had been postponed?

L.G.: Personally, I injured the cruciate ligaments in my left knee in October 2019, and my goal was to return in time for the Olympics. Some journalists said to me, "It suits you because you can go to next year's Olympics", but that was my clear goal. This does give me more time to come back, but you're never safe from a new injury. My initial feeling was one of relief for all the athletes because preparing in these conditions is so tough. You've been giving it your all for four years, and training was cut short by the lockdown. We couldn't play together anymore. Marathon runners couldn't train. It was really a relief for all the athletes and for the fans too, who were concerned about being together at that time. So it was the right decision for everyone.

A.P.: At first, I felt disappointed. Then, you immediately come to your senses when you consider the health situation. It was the best decision to take. Now, I can't see how we could have gone to the Olympics at the end of July without thinking about all the lives lost over these last few months. There is a little bit of frustration, but it pales into insignificance because you can see that it was the most sensible decision. Also, the Olympics are not cancelled. The opportunity to give it our best shot is still there.

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How have you made the most out of the lockdown period?

L.G.: I'm already a pretty positive person, so I've taken this period for what it is. I'm a mother, I've really made the most of my time with my daughter, I've been able to fully focus on my knee, purely working on getting it better. I've made the most of my home, because when you're an elite athlete you're not at home much. I've strengthened my relationships with my family, I've seen the positive side of things. I've also made the most of the time with my partner: we've cooked, we've done so many things together. We've tried to cope with this break as best we could.

A.P.: I've really enjoyed this time. It's been a chance for me to refresh my mind, to engage in activities that I haven't had time to focus on, like meditation. I've dedicated time to my other projects, my studies and my future career. I've made the most of the time to re-establish both my short- and long-term goals, and essentially look a little further ahead.

You're both changing clubs this season. What are your reasons for that?

L.G.: In going to the Hungarian league, my goal is to set my sights higher, to win the Champions League, even though I think that would have been just as possible with Metz. I wanted to give an adventure abroad a go, but not at just any club. For me, Gyor are the best in Europe. Personally, I have a very stable life, with my daughter, my partner and my dog, but I think that it's time to shake things up and try something new. I wanted to start after the Olympics, but it didn't work out like that. I'm not worrying about whether the timing is right.

A.P.: I'm going to Montenegro, to Podgorica, with my sights set higher. I expect big things for the Champions League; it's a club that's a mainstay in the quarter-finals and is seeking to return to the glory days of its not-so-distant past. I also have my own personal goals: to get back to the top after my injury and my operation last January, to play at Euro 2020 in Denmark and Norway with France and then, of course, the Olympics.

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Have you stayed in touch with your team-mates from the French squad during this time?

L.G.: We talk a lot. We're friends before team-mates, or at least we get on very well. I've had a lot of contact with some of the girls and also with the coach. The atmosphere when we're working together is always great, so it's not surprising that we have stayed in contact during this unusual time.

A.P.: All of us want to stay in touch and chat. It's been six months since we were last together, so it's important to communicate with one another. We also have video calls with all of the staff to sound things out, to think about the next steps and our potential reunion...

What will your goal be for the Tokyo Games in 2021?

L.G.: It's definitely the title; that's only natural. We want that gold medal. When you go to the Olympics, you go there to win. We don't have any other goals. I know we're going to have to work very, very hard, because an Olympic year is always very special – any athlete will tell you that. You work even harder, you dig even deeper. We'll see, but we'll definitely be aiming for first place.

A.P.: Most definitely! It would be hard to say that we're just going for a medal. But in our situation, when you've had a taste of success with silver, when you've played in a final, when you've been world champions in 2017 and European champions in 2018, you tell yourself that your goal at the next Olympics is the title.

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You're close friends...

L.G.: Yes, she's leaving for Podgorica and I'm happy for her. I started at Metz 10 years ago and she took me under her wing straight away. We have such a special relationship. And we've been talking even more recently, about our new clubs, but above all we just chat and talk about anything and everything when we call each other.

A.P.: She's my “little sister”! I felt very protective towards her when she arrived at Metz; I tried to guide her. We have a relationship that goes far beyond that of just fellow players or casual friends. Our friendship has lasted a long time. Now she's also going abroad, but when it was me who was away, we never lost touch. We have a very close bond.

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