Even the mainstream U.S. press has picked up the story of Iceland’s surprising run to the Gold Medal game. It’s simply irresistible that a tiny nation of only 300,000 people, with only 3 individual medals in its Olympic history, could secure its first ever Gold Medal. It’s a David vs. Goliath story that is hard not to like, even if you know next to nothing about Team Handball.
But, while Iceland is a clear underdog they also have a strong Handball tradition. They have almost always been good enough to scare the larger nations and often good enough to win a game or two against them. What’s notable about this tournament is that they’ve been able to string together two big victories in a row at the perfect time. Not to mention that the way the ball bounced for seeding their bracket had them avoiding France, Croatia and Denmark before the Final. And now they are in the proverbial one game, anything can happen scenario.
On paper, they shouldn’t stand much of a chance against France. Talent wise, I think that only 5 players (Steffanson, Sigurdsson, Petersson, Geirsson, and Gunnarson) on the Iceland side would even make France’s roster. And of these 5 players, I think only Steffanson and Sigurdsson would play much. The rest of Iceland’s roster consists of players who play in club leagues either 1 notch (Denmark) or two notches (Norway, Iceland) below the German/Spanish leagues. They are decent players, but they also are a step down talent wise.
But while they might come up short in a player per player comparison, their great team chemistry means that the total sum of their performance is far greater than the individual parts. They’ve also proven that they can beat the mighty French side, having done so in a convincing 32-24 trouncing of Les Bleus in preliminary round competition at the 2007 World Championships. More recently, however, Iceland suffered a 30-21 loss to France at the 2008 European Championship just 7 months ago in Norway.
Up and down performance, is a clear trend with Iceland. In June, they surprised many by beating a resurgent Swedish side to capture one of the last spots for the Olympic Games. Then two weeks later, they failed to qualify for the 2009 World Championships, losing to relative newcomer Macedonia in a two game playoff. Even their performance in Beijing has been unsteady, with losses to South Korean and a draw vs. Egypt blemishing their record in the preliminary rounds.
Is it time for the up and down Iceland roller coaster to come down again? My head says France wins going away. My heart says Iceland, Iceland, Iceland.
[b]Media Articles on Iceland Handball[/b]
New York Times: In Handball, Iceland Will Try for Its First Olympic Title: http://www.nytimes.com/2008/08/23/sports/olympics/23iceland.html?ref=sports
USA Today: Tiny Iceland on verge of handball glory, sans Bjork: http://www.usatoday.com/sports/olympics/beijing/team/2008-08-20-iceland-handball_N.htm
USA Today: Iceland eyes gold medal in handball: http://www.usatoday.com/sports/olympics/beijing/team/2008-08-23-iceland-handball_N.htm
Washington Post Sports Blog: Icelandic Handball: Magic Elves, Cured Shark and Existentialism: http://voices.washingtonpost.com/dcsportsbog/2008/08/icelandic_handball_magic_elves.html
Washington Post Sports Blog: Scenes from Iceland's Handball Triumph: http://voices.washingtonpost.com/dcsportsbog/2008/08/scenes_from_icelands_handball.html#more
Washington Post Sports Blog: Icelandic Handball's Finest Moment: http://voices.washingtonpost.com/dcsportsbog/2008/08/icelandic_handball_magic_elves.html
Christian Science Monitor: Iceland’s handball Vikings seek to plunder gold: http://features.csmonitor.com/olympics08/2008/08/20/icelands-handball-vikings-seek-to-plunder-gold/
The Sporting News: Iceland Is So Hot Right Now: http://www.sportingnews.com/blog/the_sporting_blog/entry/view/11111/iceland_is_so_hot_right_now
Reuters: Elf power, Viking rites fire up Iceland: http://www.reuters.com/article/GCA-Olympics/idUSSYD18815020080823?sp=true
LA Times Olympics Blog: Medals Per Capita Table Warms Up for Iceland: http://latimesblogs.latimes.com/olympics_blog/2008/08/medals-per-ca-4.html
Dallas Morning News Olympics Blog: An Update on my New Favorite Sport: http://olympicsblog.dallasnews.com/archives/2008/08/an-update-on-my-new-favorite-s.html
New Jersey Star Ledger: Men's Handball Team is Miracle in Iceland: http://www.nj.com/olympics/index.ssf/2008/08/mens_handball_team_is_miracle.html
Associated Press: Historic Performance Captivates Nation: http://www.nbcolympics.com/handball/news/newsid=255769.html