Russia’s women’s handball team won their first Olympic gold, overcoming France 22-19 in a tight, fast-paced final, as defending champions Norway settled for bronze.
The Russians were ahead by several points during much of the game. The French roared back in the middle of the second half to equalise 14-14, but failed to build on their momentum.
When the final whistle was blown, Russian players fell to the floor and embraced. Anna Vyakhireva said: “I’m so happy, I think I'm the happiest woman in the world right now. We were the best team and we really believed in it, the whole group. It means everything for my sporting life. This is everything I have lived for.”
France’s Allison Pineau described her feelings after being so close to gold: “It’s difficult of course, I’m really disappointed. But we really fought with everything we had. I’m really proud of what we’ve done in this tournament and we have a silver medal, so I'm really really happy about that.”
“We had the way to beat them, but we failed at some of the shots,” silver medallist Tamara Horacek added. “The Russians play from all sides, they know how to do everything.”
Russia remained undefeated all of their eight matches on the road to the final in Rio. The handball gold was the first time Russia won a women's event in any team sport. France's previous best women’s handball achievement in the competition was fourth place in 2004.
Norway in control in bronze match
Defending champions Norway found some solace for not making it to the final by overpowering the Netherlands 36-26 to take bronze. While there was no third successive gold for Norway, the team’s fierce attack and solid defence soundly beat the Dutch, who were playing their first Olympic tournament. Norway were in the lead from the third minute to the end, with Nora Mork netting seven goals on the way to victory.
The Norwegians came into the Games looking to win a third consecutive Olympic gold medal, but a semifinal extra-time defeat to Russia ended their hopes. For Mork, the tournament’s top scorer so far with 62 goals, bouncing back from the defeat was difficult: “When we first lost against Russia, it was really tough. The last 24 hours have been very difficult, we have been crying a lot but we decided to come out and show that we are better than everyone here. It took a lot of energy and we had to dig deep to get our strength back.”
The bronze means that Norway are level with Republic of Korea on six medals as the teams with most women's handball Olympic Games medals. Norway are now targeting gold at Tokyo 2020, as Mork said: “For sure an Olympic medal is big and we have to be proud of it, but I wish I was in the final.”