As the Norwegian national anthem “Ja vi elsker” (Yes we love … this country) played in the Olympic hall in London, there was no doubt who Norwegians loved on Saturday night. The women’s national handball team had done it again, winning Olympic gold and restoring Norwegian pride on the last full day of competition in London.
They were determined to go for the gold after beating South Korea earlier in the week, and they did just that. Their victory continued Norwegian dominance of women’s handball after also winning Olympic gold in Beijing four years ago. The current team, under the leadership of coach Thorir Hergeirsson, has also won the European and World Championships during the past year-and-a-half.
Their Olympic performance had seemed off balance earlier in the London Games and they caught lots of criticism at home. Sheepish commentators cast all the criticism aside Saturday night, when the team affectionately known in Norway as håndballjentene (the handball girls) powered forward when it counted, during the run-up to the semi-finals and finals.
They faced tough competition in the form of Montenegro. which boasts the best female handball player in the world, and the score was close throughout. With Crown Prince Haakon, Crown Princess Mette-Marit and their children cheering in the stands, play was fast and furious, ending at 26-23.
Linn Jorum Sulland was the star of the match, scoring 10 goals, while Heidi Loke nailed some key goals as well. Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) reported how Sulland defied pain from an apparent ankle injury that forced her to limp off the floor after scoring seven goals earlier in the match. She rested, had the ankle iced and returned to the match to score three more goals.
Not even she could explain how she did it. “I’m so exhausted that I’m completely finished, but this is also just fantastic,” she told NRK. “I was just full of adrenalin and I hate to lose.”
The Norwegians were ecstatic when their victory was assured, endlessly hugging one another, jumping up and down, rolling around on the floor and bursting into tears of joy. Montenegro ended with the silver medal and graciously applauded their Norwegian rivals. Spain took bronze after beating South Korea 31-29 following not just one but two rounds of extra time.
The handball victory saved yet another disappointing day for other Norwegian athletes. Former gold medal winner Andreas Thorkildsen failed to throw his javelin far enough on Saturday night and ended up sixth with his poorest performance in nine years. Former terrain cycling star Gunn Rita Dahle Flesjå also had a bad day, suffering a fall and then a punctured tire before dropping out of the race.
Norway’s medal count stood at four on Saturday night, two in gold (women’s handball and kayak paddling), one silver (fencing) and one bronze (cycling).
Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund
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