From defeat to victory: “Handball girls” settle for bronze after disappointing semifinals loss to Russia

Photo: Karl Filip Singdahlsen / NIF / courtesy of Norges Idrettsforbund Norway’s team played their hardest but lost the crucial match by one point after two overtime periods. Mørk, shown, was the team’s top scorer.

Photo: Karl Filip Singdahlsen / NIF / courtesy of Norges Idrettsforbund
Norway’s team played their hardest but lost the crucial match by one point after two overtime periods. Mørk, shown, was the team’s top scorer.

Molly Jones
The Norwegian American

It’s no secret that the Norwegian women’s handball team, fondly known as “håndballjentene” in Norway, went to Rio with one goal: to take their third-consecutive Olympic gold.

The world champions had a rocky start in Rio, however, losing their first match to Brazil 28-31. But after their loss to the host nation, Norway quickly recovered and went on to win the rest of their matches in the group stage—defeating Spain, Angola, Montenegro, and Romania—and qualified for the quarterfinals.

On Aug. 16, Norway crushed Sweden 33-20 in the quarterfinal match and advanced to the semifinals against Russia on Aug. 18. If they could win just one more match, the Norwegians would have the chance to defend their gold in the final.

The decisive match was fast-paced from the beginning, and Norway started by taking an early 11-8 lead over Russia. A strong six minutes by the Russians ensued, however, and they took a 15-12 lead. At halftime, Norway trailed 16-18 and continued to play catch-up with Russia throughout the remainder of the match.

With just a few seconds left on the clock, Russia led Norway 31-30, but a crucial goal by Heidi Løke tied up the match and led the teams into overtime.

The score remained neck and neck throughout the two five-minute overtime periods, and once again Russia was just one goal ahead of Norway with seconds to spare. Norway’s Camilla Herrem tried to repeat Løke’s success to send the teams into another round of overtime, but her lob wasn’t quite good enough and was a few centimeters wide. Russia therefore won 38-37, crushing Norway’s dream of another Olympic gold.

Clearly devastated by their loss, the Norwegians fell to the floor, many of them crying, as the Russians celebrated their win.

“It’s tough when you’ve fought so hard to stay in the game. And then it is finished just like that…” said Herrem, who said she felt responsible for the loss and says she will remember that moment for the rest of her life.

“We were challenged. Unfortunately we could not manage to turn it around. We knew we faced an incredibly good team that had great speed and explosiveness. They showed their capacity and we could not quite get the better of it,” says keeper Kari Aalvik Grimsbø, who struggled to keep Russia at bay with a weaker-than-normal Norwegian defense.

“We played a well-deserved semifinal, and it should have been Russia and us in the finals. But right now it is just four years that have been wasted,” said a disappointed Nora Mørk, who scored 14 of Norway’s goals and was counting on a gold in Rio after missing out on the 2012 London Games due to a knee injury.

The gold was now out of reach, but the Norwegians still had to fight for a medal in the bronze medal match against the Netherlands on Aug. 20. The Norwegians had just two days to recover from their loss, raise their spirits, and return to their winning ways.

An impressive start by Amanda Kurtovic and Camilla Herrem contributed to a solid 9-2 lead for the Norwegians a mere 10 minutes into the match.

“They show character. They show that this is a group of athletes and leaders that has great dignity and good attitudes. They give everything for Norway,” said coach Thorir Hergeirsson.

Going into the second half, Norway led 19-13. At one point the Netherlands managed to reduce Norway’s lead to 29-24, but that was the closest they ever got. In the end, Norway defeated the Netherlands by 10 goals with a score of 36-26 to take the bronze. Later in the day, Russia defeated France 22-19 for the gold.

“I am extremely proud that we managed to rise ourselves up,” said Herrem, who scored four out of five shots and clearly redeemed herself.

Mørk was once again Norway’s top scorer with seven goals in the bronze medal match and a remarkable total of 62 goals throughout the Games. The 25-year-old is already looking forward to the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

The team captain, Stine Bredal Oftedal, is proud of her team and their achievements in Rio, even if they didn’t get to defend their gold medals. “It feels really good now. There was no doubt in this match, and that was the way we wanted it. We would have preferred to play later in the evening, but we are very proud to have taken the bronze,” she comments.

This article originally appeared in the Sept. 9, 2016, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.

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