Fans, media and an IHF expert group have decided: The male and female World Handball Players of the Year 2011 are from Scandinavia. Pivot Heidi Løke is the third Norwegian in five years (and the fifth in total) to be awarded with this title, whilst left back Mikkel Hansen is the first ever Dane to be honoured with this award, which has been handed over since 1988.
Løke, who has been playing for the Hungarian club Audi ETO Györ since this season, received 28 per cent of all votes and was ahead of Allison Pineau (France, 22%), who had been awarded this title in 2009, her national team and club team mate Katrine Lunde Haraldsen (20%), Serbian Andrea Lekic (18%) and Andrea Penezic (Croatia, 12 %).
The winning margin of Hansen, playing for AG Kobenhavn in Denmark, was a bit bigger: He received 31 per cent of all votes and finished 10 per cent ahead of his predecessor Filip Jicha (Czech Republic, 21 %), and the French trio Nikola Karabatic (19 %), Luc Abalo (19 %) and Thierry Omeyer (10 %).
Last year Jicha and Romanian Cristina Neagu had been awarded World Handball Players of the Year. Both newly crowned winners come from handball families, as Mikkel Hansen’s father Flemming had been Danish national team player, too, and Heidi Løke’s brother Frank is not only former Norwegian national team and current Bundesliga player, but even plays on the same position as a line player. And both World Handball Players of the Year can look back on a highly successful year of 2011 – as you can read in the short portraits.
The 29-year-old pivot took all possible titles in 2011: In May Heidi Løke won the Champions League with her former club Larvik HK and became top scorer of this competition. In addition she became Norwegian cup winner, Norwegian champion and top scorer of the Norwegian league for the third straight time. The mother of one daughter then changed to the Hungarian club Audi ETO Györ – and in December Løke was one major key of the Norwegian national team to become World Champion in Brazil for the second time in history. She was awarded as best line player in the All-Star Team, one year after becoming All-Star Team pivot at the EHF EURO in Norway and Denmark, when Norway took their fourth straight European title – the second for Løke. After Gro Hammerseng in 2008 and Linn-Kristin Riegelhuth in 2009 Løke continues the series of Norwegian female World Handball Players.
It is no surprise that a song of “MC Hammer” (“U can’t touch this”) is played for every goal Mikkel Hansen scores for his club AG Kobenhavn – as his nickname is “the hammer”. First the world public saw his impressive hammer at the Olympics in Beijing when Hansen hit the back of the net from more than ten metres with a direct free throw after the final whistle right into the triangle of the Russian goal. The 24-year-old left back left his mark on the last major men’s tournaments, given his hammer shots and the huge number of goals. At the age of 19 and after becoming Danish champion with GOG Svendborg young Mikkel transferred to FC Barcelona – but after only two years and being finalist at the EHF Champions League he returned home to AG Kobenhavn. In his first season he became top scorer at AGK, won the Danish championship and the Danish cup in 2011. But his biggest competition up to that time was the World Championship in Sweden, where he led the Danes to their first WCh final since 1967. Despite losing to France Hansen wrote history becoming top scorer with 68 goals and member of the All-Star Team. In January 2012 Mikkel Hansen was the key for the second Danish European title – scoring nine goals in the final against host Serbia resulted in the Gold medal, and again Hansen was member of the All-Star Team.