Host City: Atlanta, United States
Venue(s): Georgia Dome, Atlanta, Georgia; Georgia World Congress Center, Atlanta, Georgia
Date Started: July 24, 1996
Date Finished: August 4, 1996
Format: Round-robin pools advance teams to classification matches.
The Olympic field was largely determined at the 1995 World Championships in Iceland, with winners France qualifying ahead of Croatia, Sweden, Germany, Russia, Egypt and Switzerland. The host nation was also admitted, along with continental qualifiers Algeria, Brazil, Kuwait and Spain.
Sweden were easily the best team in Pool A. Their strongest opposition came from the Russians, which tied 20-20 shortly before time only to lose out 22-20. But the real drama was in the Croatia - Russia match, which was to decide the second qualifier from the group. With 37 seconds left to play, the score tied at 24-24, Dmitry Torgovanov was penalized, and the successive Croatian attack was crowned with a goal by Božidar Jović. The Croatians went through to the semis, despite losing by a large margin to Sweden in their fifth group match (27-18).
In the other pool, World Champions France played as expected, winning their first four matches before succumbing to Germany in the last match (24-23), yet securing qualification for the semi-finals. The remaining ticket was to be decided between Spain, silver medallists at the European Championships a few months before the Games, and Egypt, which had the best ever African performance at the World Championships, with a sixth place. Each team had three wins and a loss (against France) before they faced each other in the final pool game. The Spaniards were in the lead throughout the game, but Egypt was never far, losing out only 20-19.
The Spaniards, featuring 1992 champion Talant Duyshebayev (then with the Unified Team), didn't hold out in the semi-finals, and they were outclassed by Sweden 25-20. The other semi-final was a replay of the 1995 World Championships final. The Croatians were eager for revenge, and took an early lead. By half-time, that had been increased to four points, which was never relinquished and held until the end (24-20).
In the final, the Swedes started out poorly. Croatia capitalized on that, building up an early lead that had stretched to five goals at the half-time mark (16-11). In an all-out effort to prevent a repeat of their loss in the 1992 Olympic final, Sweden initiated a comeback. Wingers Pierre Thorsson (8 goals) and Erik Hajas (7) brought their team closer and closer, but not close enough to hold the Croatians from winning by one goal (27-26). For Croatia, it was the first ever Olympic title won by that country. Five of its players had already earned a bronze while still playing for Yugoslavia back in 1988: Alvaro Načinović, Goran Perkovac, Iztok Puc, [Zlatan Saračević] and Irfan Smajlagić.
One of the players on the Spanish team that earned the bronze medal turned out to have an excellent Olympics for other reasons as well. Iñaki Urdangarín met Princess Cristina de Borbón, herself a sailing competitor at the 1988 Olympics; they married in 1997. In late 2011, Urdangarín discredited the royal family by being named in a corruption and money laundering case, which is still under investigation as of 2012.