Handball: Norway and Montenegro celebrate in style
LONDON (Reuters) - Champions Norway unfurled an enormous flag on court while Montenegro celebrated their country's first Olympic medal as the London Games women's handball tournament came to a spectacular end on Saturday.
The title holders reigned supreme throughout a tough physical encounter against the tiny Balkan nation, winning 26-23 to defend their Beijing gold and send the large Norwegian support inside the Basketball Arena delirious with joy.
"I felt like I was playing in Norway today," world player of the year Heidi Loke told Reuters.
Spain won the bronze, their first Olympic women's handball medal, with a thrilling 31-29 double extra-time defeat of twice champions South Korea that their coach labeled "historic".
Romanian-born goalkeeper Mihaela Ciobanu saved four out of five penalties to keep the Spaniards ahead against the twice winners, the 39-year-old only making an appearance on court purely for penalties and the tactic paid off.
But the day belonged to the feisty Norwegians and the Montenegro team, not one of whom seemed downbeat when the tussle ended.
Instead they immediately put on T-shirts in honor of outgoing duo Bojana Popovic and Maja Savic, while tournament top-scorer Katarina Bulatovic hailed the nation's greatest sporting day.
"People were on the streets and they'll make something for us that we will never forget. I hope we can be at this stage of the Olympics again because this feeling is unbelievable," she told Reuters.
Prime Minister Igor Luksic, who has been supporting Montenegro's athletes in London, said: "I'm probably one of the proudest prime ministers in the world right now."
Meanwhile Norwegian players took it in turns to parade around the court with a flag that normally would have required three of them to carry.
Their on-court performance was just as strong as they mixed penetrating attacks with resolute defense to shut off Montenegro's supply of goals even if Bulatovic still found a way through with 10 strikes.
It was Linn Sulland and her 10 goals that stole the show though.
The 28-year-old stood alone for long periods of her team's post-semi-final media room session, seemingly not in demand.
She was not allowed to pass one camera on her way to the changing room on Saturday however, having jumped high above the Montenegrin defense, often launching the ball into the net at phenomenal speeds.
"You have a good feeling when you're scoring. I had a good feeling today," said the versatile right-sided player who was consigned to the bench in the second half with a leg injury.
TOO MUCH HEART
For all of Sulland's goals and his team's excellent defensive effort, coach Thorir Hergeirsson was clearly relieved their inexperienced opponents showed too much emotion on court and suffered from a number of sin-bins.
"They're a hard team to play, because they train together all year. I think they're a great team and they play with their hearts, but maybe a little bit much today," he said.
Norway's patience was also key after a slow start where they needed 15 minutes to edge ahead of Montenegro when Sulland scored her second of the game then went on to score five more in the remaining 15 minutes of the first period.
Montenegro then turned the match on its head by making it a more physical encounter, notching up suspension after suspension but somehow clinging on, goalkeeper Sonja Barjaktarovic thumping her chest after producing several key saves in the second half.
But Norway are made of stern stuff. Loke's only goal of the game with just under 10 minutes remaining seemed to spark the Norwegians into life as the crowd awoke from their nervous slumber and roared the champions down the home straight.
Spain's route to bronze had to be steered through choppier waters but they are a team on the up following European championship silver four years ago and a third-placed finish at last year's world championship.
"I'm very proud to be able to play with the Spanish side. I'm making the most of being in a great team and all we can achieve," Ciobanu told Reuters.
Her team mates sang "Campeones" (champions) on court at the medal ceremony. It was one of those days when all three teams standing on the podium could not have been happier to be there.
(Editing by Alison Williams)
- Tweet this
- Share this
- Digg this