Daily Briefing

Obscure Olympic sports: Water polo to Greco-Roman wrestling

A quick refresher course for people who only tune in to handball and the modern pentathlon once every four years

Stars like Usain Bolt and Jessica Ennis-Hill will illuminate the Olympics in Rio over the next fortnight, but what makes the Games different from other big sporting occasions is its breadth and scope.

In addition to the athletes and swimmers, there will be international footballers, NBA basketball stars and some of the world's best tennis and golf players, all rubbing shoulders with little-known amateur sportsmen from around the world competing in the likes of water polo and canoeing.

Renowned athletes such as Andy Murray, Sonny Bill Williams, Kevin Durant, Neymar and Henrik Stenson will be fighting it out for exactly the same prize as Team GB's teenage trampolinist Harry Newbold-Cozens and shooter Amber Hill, who still lives with her parents in Binfield, Berkshire, and has been training to become a beautician.

The Olympics is also the only time most people are likely to stay up late to watch Greco-Roman wrestling or the modern pentathlon.

So here's everything you need to know about some of the less popular Olympic sports:[[{"type":"media","view_mode":"content_original","fid":"98480","attributes":{"class":"media-image"}}]]

Handball
What is it and where does it comes from?

Handball is hugely popular in continental Europe and the name says it all. It spread from Germany in the 19th century and the country published the first rules in 1917. International matches began in the 1920s and handball made its Olympic bow in the 1936 Games in Berlin.

A brief outline of the rules

Handball is played indoors on a court measuring 131ft x 65ft. There are seven players on each team and games are 30 minutes each half. Teams try to throw the ball into their opponent's goal, but each player can only hold the ball for maximum of three seconds and are not allowed to travel more than three steps without shooting or passing.

Who to watch

France are the overwhelming favourites in the men's event, having won Olympic Gold in Beijing and again in London. They also triumphed in the 2015 World Championships. The Norwegian women have been similarly dominant, winning back-to-back Olympic titles in 2008 and 2012 and also clinching gold in last year's Worlds.

Team GB Chances:

None. As hosts, Britain fielded a men's and women's side at the 2012 Games but between them they lost all ten matches. We then terminated our short love affair with a sport that has never captured the collective imagination.

When is it on?

The competition begins at 1.30pm on Saturday 6 August and runs throughout the Games. The women's final is at 3.30pm on 20 August and the men's final is at 6pm the following day.

Water polo

What is it and where does it comes from?

Men's water polo is believed to have been invented in Scotland in the late 19th century, where it was billed as a form of "water rugby". It has a proud history and was the first team sport at the modern Olympics when it debuted in 1900. It wasn't until the Sydney 2000 Games that women had the chance to compete.

A brief outline of the rules

Typically played in a deep pool (at least six feet), water polo is a contact sport played by teams of six outfield players and one goalkeeper. There are four eight-minute quarters and the object is to throw the ball into the opponents' goal. Players cannot touch the bottom of the pool and must tread water. The ball is moved by throwing or can be pushed along while swimming. Physical contact is allowed and the game can be surprisingly violent.

Who to watch

In the women's tournament, Australia and the US have a fine Olympic record, with the latter not only the reigning champions but also the world champs. The men's tournament looks more open, with World and European Champions Serbia the slight favourites to edge out reigning Olympic-holders Croatia.

Team GB Chances:

Britain once dominated this event - admittedly a century ago - but the last of Team GB's four golds came in 1920 and neither the men nor women succeeded in qualifying for Rio

When is it on?

Starts on 1pm on 6 August, with Serbia in action in the opening match. The women's final is at 7.30pm on 19 August and the men's at 9.50pm the following day.

Modern pentathlon
What is it and where does it comes from?

The brainchild of Pierre de Coubertin, the founder of the modern Olympics, the pentathlon was his quest to find the "complete athlete" over the course of five disciplines - fencing, swimming, showjumping, running and shooting. Initially, De Coubertin included rowing among the five sports but for practicality's sake replaced it with shooting.

A brief outline of the rules

It begins with a fencing ranking round in which all athletes compete against one another. Day two kicks-off with a 200m swim, then there's another fencing round, followed by showjumping. The pentathletes' overall scores are then converted into a time handicap for a two-mile run during which they pause at a firing range four times to shoot targets.

Who to watch

The French fancy their chances in the men's event, with Valentin Prades and Valentin Belaud both in impressive form. Belaud became world champion in May and he and his pentathlete girlfriend, Elodie Clouvel, are the darlings of the French media. But Clouvel will have to do something special to beat Lithuania's Laura Asadauskaite, the 2012 Olympic victor, while the 2008 champion, German Lena Schoneborn, is also in good nick.

Team GB chances?

Britain has a good track record in the modern pentathlon in recent years, with Steph Cook taking a gold in at the Sydney Olympics and Samantha Murray clinching silver at London. Murray also won gold in the 2014 World Championships, but her form dipped last year and she finished fifth in the Worlds.

In the men's event, former world junior champion Jamie Cooke failed to medal in the 2012 Olympics but has matured into a top competitor and won two world cup events earlier this year to put him in contention for a podium finish in Rio.

When it is on?

The fencing gets things underway on Thursday 18 August. The women's event continues on the 19 August, with the final event beginning at 10pm. The men are in action the following day, with their final event also at 10pm.

Greco-Roman wrestling
What is it and where does it comes from?

Although it sounds like a sport dating back thousands of years, the rules of Greco-Roman wrestling were only laid down in the mid-19th century by a Frenchman. However, he simply came up with a set of rules derived from the various "folk-wrestling" styles found in European cultures that have filtered down from ancient times. It has featured in every Olympics since 1896.

It is one of the few Olympic sports only contested by men, although the freestyle wrestling competition is open to women.

A brief outline of the rules

The action takes place in a circle with a 30ft diameter. The aim is to pin your opponent to the floor. If neither wrestler manages it, the match is decided on points, which are awarded for throws or for gaining an advantage in another way, such as exposing your opponent's back.

The key difference between Greco-Roman and freestyle wrestling is that the use of legs is not permitted.

Who to watch

Mijain Lopez of Cuba is the biggest draw. He is competing in his fourth Olympics and will be going for his third straight gold in the men's 130kg (286lbs) category. In his way will be Turkey's Riza Kayaalp and their expected meeting in the final could be the highlight of the event.

Team GB chances?

Post-Brexit, perhaps it is fitting that no British athletes qualified for an event as embedded in European tradition as Greco-Roman wrestling.

When is it on?

The grappling begins at 2pm on Sunday 14 August and the 59kg (130lbs) and 75kg (165lbs) men's categories are decided that day, with the finals at 9.30pm and 10.30pm. The 85kg (187lbs) and 130kg divisions take to the mat on 15 August, with the latter's final at 10.30pm. The following day it is the turn of wrestlers in the 66kg (145lbs) and 98kg (216lbs) divisions.

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