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Icelandic Handball's Finest Moment

The scene today. It was wild. (By Marcelo Del Pozo - Reuters)

"I think this is the biggest moment in Icelandic sport history." - Iceland President Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson.

It's hard to explain just how monumental was Iceland's win over Spain was in today's men's handball semifinals. Spain--with more than 40 million residents--had probably played stronger than any team in the tournament. Iceland has 300,000 residents, and has never won Summer Olympic gold. And yet Iceland never trailed in a 36-30 win, and breezed into Sunday's final against France.

But that's too dry. When we asked Iceland's Sigfus Sigurdsson to explain what the scene would be like back home right now, he used the words "ape [bleep]" three times. That's more like it.

Over the next few hours I will bring you as much details about the Icelandic triumph as you could possibly handle, but first, flash quotes.

"Like I said, it was a manifestation of things felt and thought for so long," said team captain and self-identified existentialist Olafur Stefansson. "Unbelievable. No, not unbelievable, that's a negative thought. It was believable the whole time."

"We have had individual victories before, and we won our first medal when I was a kid in a small fishing village in Iceland, and I remember vividly what a national celebration that was," said Grímsson, the country's longtime President. "But for a small nation like mine, to come with a whole team, and to be victorious against some of the greatest nations in handball, nations that have millions and millions of people?

"It's not just a message for us in Iceland. I think it's a message to the entire international sport movement, that anything is possible. You can have young guys growing up in a small country like Iceland. Working hard in their employment, using their spare time to train. And they can come here to China and play the finals. And return to Iceland, each and every one of them, with either silver or gold.

"And maybe you noticed, like I did, at the Opening Ceremony when it appeared on television, how many small nations came to the Olympics. Our victory here tonight is a message to all these small nations, that if we can do it, they can also do it. But it's also a warning to the big nations not to take us small guys for granted....

It was lunchtime in Iceland when this game was broadcast, so I am absolutely sure no one will continue working in Iceland today. It will be a day off, and nobody will do anything until the finals, and when these guys return home..."

"With a gold medal!" interjected first lady Dorrit Moussaieff.

"...It will be a national celebration, whether they come with silver or gold," the President concluded. "As I said before, I think this is not only the biggest moment in our sport history, it's a big moment in the international sport history. Because it is a message that the Olympics is not just for the U.S. or China or U.K. or all these countries that are proud to be at the top of the record of the gold medal. It's a message that at the Olympics, anything can happen, that a whole team--which nobody believed except us had a chance--can come here and beat all the great guys and return home with either gold or silver."

By Dan Steinberg  |  August 22, 2008; 11:52 AM ET
Categories:  Olympics  
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Iceland's been bitter ever since they lost the World Junior Hockey Championships gold to the U.S. in Mighty Ducks 2. Damn you knucklepuck!

Posted by: Max Wass | August 22, 2008 12:06 PM | Report abuse

He was channeling Rocky there with the "if a small Iceland can do it, any small country can do it" ala "If I can change, you can change". Good stuff.

Posted by: ckstevenson | August 22, 2008 12:37 PM | Report abuse

Stefansson/Grimsson '08

Posted by: Charles Zimbabwe | August 22, 2008 12:55 PM | Report abuse

Yes, yes...

Posted by: B.A. | August 22, 2008 1:28 PM | Report abuse

ok, where can I buy an Iceland Handball jersey? these guys are great.

and they're right about the shark and booze, too.

Posted by: northzax | August 22, 2008 2:25 PM | Report abuse

I do find it sad that the president of the country I'm born in, has nothing better to do, than rave about Icelands succes in a quite minor sport. Hats of to the team and all, but allthough I'm not there now, I'm sure that people at home are crying tears of joy, declaring this a national holiday, and proclaming that this finally prooves the superiority of the Icelandic people..
My countrymen suffer under their own national pride, wich at times goes too far. Imagine living in a typical "smalltown", thats what living in Iceland is like, and the president is the disillusioned mayor

Posted by: N.S | August 22, 2008 2:37 PM | Report abuse

N.S......eigðu þig félagi!!!

Posted by: SHB | August 22, 2008 2:54 PM | Report abuse

I have to say to you, N.S., that you are a sad person that can´t support your country or its team.
Áfram Ísland

Posted by: H.V | August 22, 2008 3:04 PM | Report abuse

Trust me, I support my team, I watched the game, I jumped on the couch when the game was over and all that. I have huge respect for the guys in the team.
The point is just that people take it too far. The president sounds like somone from terrible "underdog" movie. Name one head of state from a respectable country that behaves this way...
With all said and done, I cant wait for the game on sunday, sorry if I offended anyone, but inspirational underdog speaches make me want to puke

Posted by: Anonymous | August 22, 2008 3:16 PM | Report abuse

I can think of at least a dozen heads of state from 'respectable' countries that behave far, far worse.

Posted by: Charles Zimbabwe | August 22, 2008 3:52 PM | Report abuse

Just admit that you too are proud N.S.

Posted by: Simon | August 22, 2008 4:07 PM | Report abuse

So much literature, so many movies and so many stories are about just this kind of event. The victory against all odds.

Is Iceland the new Sparta? Just kidding!

Posted by: Jökull | August 22, 2008 5:24 PM | Report abuse

I must admit that there is a grain of harsh truth in the words of fellow N.S. (not that subtracts from my glee in the moment, however). One of the benefits of being so small is how easily you are forgiven when your ego gets blown out of proportions.

But come on, they have made an underdog sports movie about dodgeball already, for chrisssakes! Someone in Hollywood must have patented the "based on a true story" movie title "Dark Horses," specifically for this intent, even as we speak. It stands to reason.

Posted by: HjorvarPez | August 22, 2008 5:51 PM | Report abuse

And by the way, thank you Dan, for your keen interest and, dare I say, somewhat morbid fascination with our little Olympics adventure. :)

Posted by: HjorvarPez | August 22, 2008 6:17 PM | Report abuse

This is crazy....i cried after the match..I cried again when i watched the news tonight when they showed from the game...I,m in a zone that i have never felt before..I´m so proud of the guys and the country. Olafur Stefansson has showed that he´s simply the best in world.What a year for him..he single handed won the euro for Ciud Real with a game of his live..Something tells me that we are gonna see something magical from him in sunday...Common boys bring the Gold home...

And Dan...nice to read your report...


Posted by: magnus | August 22, 2008 7:51 PM | Report abuse

There's nothing wrong with getting a bit carried away with nationalistic hype every once in a while. That has nothing to do with establishing superiority over anybody else, it's all just good fun. If some people are to full of snobbery to take part in the joy, they can just keep it to themselves.

Posted by: Bjarki | August 22, 2008 8:11 PM | Report abuse

Who is this Grimsson fellow ?? Is he playing the President of Iceland or is he the guy who flew abramovic out of Russian airspace ?? when Putin had decided to arrest Abramovic, Abramovic invited Grimsson fellow to join him on a plane to England, meaning The Putin Government decided they were unable to arrest Abramovic because he was carrying this Grimsson fellow in his suitcase on Abramovic plane.Its right, maybe most head of states are 10 year old except for sex life ....

Posted by: jónas jónsson | August 22, 2008 8:18 PM | Report abuse

Did we ever get an answer to the question about the jerseys? I want one.

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