The Icelandic men’s handball team lost 28-23 against France in the final at the Beijing Olympics on Sunday morning. But Iceland still celebrates coming in second and taking home the silver in handball for the very first time.
“I am extremely proud. This achievement was no coincidence. We have shown it in many games what we are made of. We didn’t get the gold but we won silver at the Olympics and to achieve that, many things have to work out,” Iceland’s coach Gudmundur Gudmundsson told Morgunbladid.
“We appear to have practiced the right things in the time that we had for practicing. The team was in a great physical condition and the mental condition was in order,” Gudmundsson said. “We worked like one person, trainers, assistants and players.”
Gudmundsson was, however, not satisfied with Iceland’s performance against France. “Like the game developed we did not play well enough in the final. We blew too many good chances. The latter half was [even] but we let them get too far ahead in the first half. The French defense is strong but despite that we created many chances that we unfortunately didn’t take advantage of.”
Iceland put up a good fight at times but France was the stronger team throughout.
France’s coach Claude Onesta had not expected an easy game. “We realized that the first 15 minutes of the final would be the most important. If we would not manage to keep the Icelanders at bay during the first quarter they might get the lead in the game and then we would have been in serious trouble.”
According to statistics, France is the stronger team, but anything can happen in handball as Iceland proved when they beat France 32-24 at the Handball World Championship in Germany in January 2007.
Despite losing the gold at the Beijing Olympics, Gudmundsson said he had been very touched when his players received the silver. “I shed a tear. It was the biggest moment in Icelandic handball history.”
Iceland is the only Nordic nation apart from Sweden—who placed second in three Olympics in a row—to have ever won a medal at the Olympics in men’s handball.
Fréttabladid claimed that Iceland is also the most scarcely-populated nation ever to win a medal in a group sport at the Olympics and therefore calls Iceland’s achievement the greatest success in Icelandic sporting history.
According to Morgunbladid, never before has a country with fewer than one million inhabitants (Iceland has a population of 300,000) played in the final in handball, basketball, football, volleyball, water polo, hockey or baseball at the Olympics.
Only once before has an Icelandic athlete won the silver at the Olympics, Vilhjálmur Einarsson in triple jump in 1956. In 1984 and 2000, Icelandic athletes won the bronze, but the gold remains unconquered.
“We feel the support which we have received from all directions and especially from Iceland. It is invaluable to sense that and I don’t know how to describe how I feel, amazingly, and at the same time I am grateful for the support we have enjoyed,” Gudmundsson said.
Gudmundsson complimented the Chinese on the Olympics. “It is the largest sports event that has ever been held and the greatest Olympic games to date. No question about it. But I did not have a chance to enjoy these games. […] It has been work non-stop.”
Iceland’s player Snorri Steinn Gudjónsson was the second-highest goal scorer in men’s handball at the Olympics. He scored 48 goals during the games, one fewer than Spain’s player Juan Garcia. Another player for Iceland, Gudjón Valur Sigurdsson, placed third with 43 goals.
Iceland’s victory over Spain (who ended up with the bronze) in the semi-finals on Friday received world-wide attention, even in countries where handball is largely unheard of. The Icelandic handball team was even on the cover of the New York Times.
Click here to read more about Iceland’s game against Spain.