Humans of beach handball: Ivan Jurić
Ivan Jurić has been a constant presence in beach handball since 2007 – both in club tournaments and national team events. The most decorated beach handball player of Croatia keeps on going after winning seven medals at EHF Beach Handball EURO events and six at IHF World Championships medals, plus gold from the World Games and numerous individual awards.
Ivan Jurić’s first contact with the sport was not different from most players. It all started with indoor handball, enjoying time on the court. Starting early in the fourth grade of elementary school, he paved his way in his hometown Zagreb, up until the time he learned about beach handball.
“My school had a strong handball team. From there, I went through all younger age categories, played in the HC PPD Zagreb academy and continued my senior path in different clubs. One summer, while at the academy preparations, in August 2003 I think, our coach gave us a free weekend that we were supposed to spend on some activity.
“The boys from the club and I went to Jarun and participated in a beach handball tournament. That was my first touch with the sport I love so much,” Jurić says.
The true beach handball journey started two years later when he joined BHC Zagreb; the PMF team at the time, later known as Detono Zagreb.
“Two years later, some of my friends were already at college, while I was finishing high school. The college team had a beach handball team and they called me to join. As I live very close to the Jarun lake, my path started alongside them. From the tournaments in Croatia to travelling Europe, 16 years later I'm still here.”
No summer without beach handball
To become one of the synonyms for the sport in your country is not an easy task but Croatia’s team captain is exactly that.
What has kept Jurić in beach handball all these years?
“When I succeed in something I love, I stick to it. That was also the case with beach handball. As time went by, every summer became a time to play beach handball.”
Beach handball shaped his life and his free time. Everyone knows his summer is dedicated to one thing.
“It became unimaginable to have a summer without at least one tournament played – both with the club and the national team. I do know what the summer without beach handball looks like but it is getting harder and harder for me to remember it,” Jurić says about his love for the sport.
Remembering it all
MVP, best left wing, best defender, top scorer… there is no award Jurić has not received at least once during his beach handball career. Even though he left his mark with BHC Zagreb, his biggest successes were with the national team.
And it all started in 2007 in Italy at the EHF Beach Handball EURO.
“I remember everything about the first European Championship with the national team – from getting a call to going to my first training. It was a Friday afternoon when I got a call from player Mladen Paradžik, who is now our head coach, that head coach Sinisa Ostoic wanted me to come to a training.
“That Saturday morning, I joined the team, spent the whole summer with them including the European Championship in Italy. The experience of being part of the national team was amazing. We did not expect much, but we reached the finals. We lost 2:1 to Russia and won silver – my first medal is something you always remember,” Jurić says.
BHC Zagreb were unstoppable in Europe at that time. What is Jurić's favourite memory with the club?
“Looking back at all trophies BHC Zagreb won, again the first one is one of my favourites: the EHF Masters in 2009 in Corfu. We were training hard that summer and could not wait for the competition to start. There is a story about the trip to Corfu, as we took a ferry from Venice. We had a 24-hour trip to prepare even more, and 24 hours back for a celebration and party.”
The Croatia national team is well-known for its atmosphere, team spirit and enjoying time on and off the court. And that atmosphere is the key according to Jurić, adding that every new success that continued the medal series was more beautiful than the previous one.
Winning four consecutive gold medals at the EHF Beach Handball EURO between 2009 and 2015 meant a record that probably will be written in beach handball history forever.
“The Croatia national team won so many medals that sometimes it is hard to pick the favourite one. Other than the first trophy at the EURO, the two World Championship medals come into mind. At the World Championship in 2018 in Russia we won the silver medal after half of the team retired and we had an almost completely new team, without Dumencic who is the specialist. No one thought we could battle for the medals. Also, the World Championship in 2016 in Budapest, as we finally sat on the throne after eight years.”
With such a large number of trophies in the cabinet and individual awards, is there room for regrets?
“One thing I regret is that we have not won the gold medal in Zagreb in 2017 at the European Championship. We had a chance to extend the record to five gold medals in a row in our hometown but we were stopped in the semi-finals and won bronze in the end,” Jurić says.
“All my individual awards are great, but they would not mean much if you do not win a medal with the team. Winning the MVP award and the gold medal is the absolute top in the sports world,” Jurić says.
Beach handball has come a long way – from a just-for-fun activity to a respected sport on its way to possible inclusion in the Olympic programme one day.
“Since I started, beach handball developed a lot. Maybe not at the speed we all wanted but I am happy to see it where it is today. It has a lot to do with strong handball countries investing in it like France, Germany, Denmark,” Jurić says.
“It would be great if a few more non-European countries would join, like China maybe. The USA are already here, and it would be great if we could popularise it even more over there. We need to have a bigger market, to involve more people to make it easier to become an Olympic sport. That would be the highlight.”
Marketing and media presence are crucial factors for the sport to take the next step.
“EHF and IHF have a huge role in the development of beach handball, we can’t popularise the sport by ourselves. In the last couple of years, the coverage and marketing are on a top level. During summer we have the same social media and website presence as the EHF Champions League. For me as a player, that is amazing,” Jurić says.
At the ebt Finals 2022 and EHF Beach Handball Champions Cup, Jurić represented Ciudad de Malaga, winning bronze and finishing fourth, respectively.
“As I travel a lot, I met many people and gained new friends, that is how my story with Malaga started. They called me to join them as Zagreb were not competing that year. For me, it was interesting to see their approach to beach handball, their philosophy, and their way of playing. It was a real pleasure to play with them and I am thankful they invited me to join them.”
In 2023, Jurić will make his return to BHC Zagreb, competing at the European Beach Handball Tour and continue his path with the Croatian national team.
The EHF Beach Handball EURO 2023 is set to take place in Nazaré, Portugal from 24-28 May as record champions Croatia will try to win yet another medal. Winning gold again, after doing do at the World Championship and the World Games would make three-out-of-three for them.
“This summer will be once again dedicated to the national team. I don’t want to talk about expectations but as a team captain, I know we will give our best to return home with yet another success,” Jurić concludes. “But it will all depend on which players will be available, as many are playing their indoor handball leagues.”