As the Tokyo Olympics draw to a close, Pfeiffer University Athletics has put the black and gold spotlight on Greg Caccia, the only Falcon to compete in the Team USA’s Olympics.
Caccia, who graduated from Pfeiffer in 1990, played tennis for the Falcons throughout his time at Misenheimer. From 1987 to 1989, he played number one in singles and was also the team’s MVP during those seasons. He won all conference honors in 1988, and during that season achieved an NAIA ranking of No.36.
After his tennis career, he entered Adelphi University in Garden City, NY with the goal of becoming a teacher.
In Adelphi he started playing handball recreationally, and in 1993 he was invited to participate in a trial for the United States national team.
That first try, held in Philadelphia, saw the 26-year-old, 6-foot-5, 240-pounder Caccia compete for one of the team’s 16 places. A total of 50 players from across the country participated in the Olympic testing process.
Caccia would move to Atlanta during the trial process, which lasted for three years. Over this period, Caccia and Olympic hopefuls traveled to Europe, where handball is very popular, to play against club and other national teams. The European experience took him to Denmark, Germany, Norway and Sweden, where the game as it is currently played, developed at the beginning of the 19e century.
The training for the Olympics was intense, but also difficult, because Caccia says the United States Olympic Committee (USOC) did not provide the team with a lot of funds.
âSwimming, gymnastics, basketball and track and field, these sports attract the most attention at the Olympic level and, conversely, are better funded. We basically had to fundraise for ourselves to be able to do our European training tours, âhe said.
The Olympic team roster was named in May 1996, which Caccia made the cut and was officially a member of the US team.
Caccia describes handball as having certain characteristics of basketball.
âThere are a lot of games that are developed where you use picks, certain movement patterns and passing strategies,â he said. Dribbling is essential, just like basketball, but unlike basketball, a player can take three steps after a dribble before shooting or passing to a teammate. Caccia Most of the time, three dribbles are rarely used before a pass or a shot on goal.
âThe game is very fast,â he said. âYou really have to be in great shape to play handball. I describe it as playing water poloâ¦ without the water.
Played on a court slightly larger than the basketball court using six positional players on each team, in addition to a goalkeeper, handball players generally have the same general athletic build as basketball players. ball. “I often remember being up against players from Russia and Sweden who were 7 feet tall,” he said. International handball consists of two 30-minute halves with a 10-minute half. In most games, the winning scores are between 30 and 30 seconds.
âThese European players were so athletic and their size made the ball, which is about the size of a cantaloupe and has a hard leather exterior, difficult to defend,â he said.
1996 Atlanta Olympics
âThe opening ceremonies are something I will never forget,â he said. âBeing there in front of over 100,000 people at the Olympic Stadium, our team was actually sitting right in front of The Dream Team, so we got to chat with Michael Jordan, Charles Barkley and Hakeem Olajuwon, among others, before the parade of nations.
Caccia also remembers Olajuwon coming to attend some of their training in the Atlanta area, while playing handball growing up in his native Nigeria.
“(Hakeem) Olajuwon in fact gave us some great pointers and tips.
Caccia laughed, saying, “I’m not going to refuse any advice from a Hall of Famer.”
Caccia also said during the opening ceremonies, he and his teammates felt the pressure.
“Since we were an automatic qualifier based on the United States as the host nation, we wanted to prove that we belonged to play against the best in the world.”
In the competition, Caccia and the US team opened the matches at the Georgia World Congress Center with a 23-19 loss to Sweden on July 24, 1996. They would also fall to Russia (31-16), Croatia (35-27) and Switzerland. (29-20) before closing the group game with a 29-25 victory over Kuwait.
A 27-26 overtime victory over Algeria on August 2 concluded the game for the United States, taking ninth place, which is the best result for an American handball team in an Olympic competition.
Croatia would win the gold medal against Sweden while Spain beat France for the bronze medal.
Following the competition, Caccia said the closing ceremonies were a big party.
âWe have had so much fun the last few days. We have to go and support other American athletes in their competitions. Being in the Olympics is something I will cherish forever. “
Being a member of the US Olympic team allowed Caccia visit the White House.
âI met President Clinton at the White House,â he said. âThe things I have experienced representing the United States in handball are something close to my heart. I wouldn’t trade them for anything.
From a small town on Long Island to New York, to Misenheimer, in Atlanta and in many different places in between, Greg, a graduate of Pfeiffer Caccia is one of the lucky ones to have lived the Olympic dream.
Since participating in the Atlanta Olympics, Caccia stayed in the Atlanta area and worked in the medical sales industry. He still plays handball recreationally and looks forward to the next 25-year reunion of the 1996 US handball team.