Norway’s resurgent men’s handball team won an historic silver medal at the world championships in Paris Sunday evening, losing to the highly favoured hometown team France. After living in the shadow of the popular and highly successful women’s handball team for years, the men are now grabbing attention, too.
“We looked longingly at the winners’ trophy, but one day we’ll be there, at the top of the podium,” Christian Berge, the team’s head coach, told state broadcaster NRK when it was all over.
Sunday’s final match had started out promisingly well, with Norway in the lead early on. Halfway through the match, Norway was ahead by three full points and French fans were said to be both shocked and charmed by the energetic Norwegians. Paris’ large Bercy Hall was sold out for the final, with around 18,000 spectators in the stands.
The French team, heavily favoured as five-time world champions, struck back. They started getting by Norway’s impressive goalkeeper Torbjørn Bergerud, whose sensational saves had won him credit for Friday’s stunning victory in the semi-finals over Croatia, another powerhouse handball team.
It all ended with France beating Norway by a score of 33-26. “I’m furious, irritated, happy and proud,” Berge told NRK. Neither the coach nor team captain Bjarte Myrhol are ever satisfied, but Berge was nonetheless enjoying the moment: “We have won a medal and we shall be proud of that.”
Hailed by the prime minister
Fans in the stands and back home in Norway were certainly proud, with commentators calling the silver “as good as gold” and Prime Minister Erna Solberg sending her congratulations and thanks for a great championship week. Myrhol, who at age 34 is a veteran of many championships and also has survived testicle cancer, said that getting the medal around his neck “helped improve my humour. This is something I definitely have always worked for and dreamed about.”
He had told other reporters earlier, after winning the spot in the finals, that “I talked about this with my wife, and we agreed, it’s all been worth it.” Perhaps the ultimate compliment came from France’s top player and world handball star Nikola Karabatic, who said he was impressed by Norway.
“Norway played so well,” he told NRK. “There’s a lot of emotion right now. It’s a great moment for me. In the second half we played better in defense and we made a difference just by running more. After we had four-five goals, things loosened up.”
Handball commentator for NRK Håvard Tvedten hailed Norway’s performance, saying it “should echo for a long time. This is fantastic history that’s been written here tonight.”