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Swedish Handball Journey Ends

Swedish women's handball fans remain upbeat despite tough quarterfinal loss.

I'm going to choose not to give you play-by-play of the Swedes' predictable 31-24 loss to gold medal favorites Norway in today's women's handball quarterfinals for three reasons:

1) I still don't completely understand why players are allowed to take seven steps despite the three-step rule. Or anything else.

2) Due to time differences, the game ended in the middle of the night D.C. time, and the score is now old news, broadcast during morning drive on WTOP and whatever else. In such cases, the 2008 newspaper mandate is that play-by-play is out and long-winded overwritten analysis is in.

3) I read the schedule wrong and missed the entire game.

But no worries, that's not gonna stop me from writing about the end of the glorious Swedish journey. (Which, by the way, still isn't over; the Swedes could still finish in fifth with two more consolation wins, and if that happens, Swedish player Sara Holmgren said, "I could probably dance all night.")

Plus, I got to see much of the next game, involving Hungary, whose massive fan contingent painted their bare chests and stood and sang football songs throughout the entire game. They're now no worse than fourth on my list of best fan-bases at the Olympics. They really make the "U-S-A, U-S-A!" crowd look like second graders on sedatives.

Anyhow, here's your post-match report, following on two previous Swedish women's handball reports:

"They always say, 'We're going to beat Norway,' so we always have to beat them," said Norway's Marit Malm Frafjord, who, like other Norwegian players, hinted that pre-game Swedish confidence served as motivation. But c'mon, Norway; you didn't need such media stunts to come out on top.

"To beat Norway, we need each position to be 100 percent perfect, and we didn't have that," Tina Flognman noted. (Yeah, 47 percent of the reason Scandinavians are appropriate blog subjects is because of their last names.)

"Norway is the better team today," said Sweden Coach Ulf Schefvert after it was over. But I asked him to judge the entire Swedish journey; "I think in a schedule of one to five, this was a six," he said.

And indeed, the Swedish fans ringing the concourse upstairs and chatting with the Norwegian neighbors said much the same. This was no grudge match--the Norwegians seem destined for handball gold, and the Swedes were thrilled to be in the quarters, and the countries are friendly neighbors anyhow, with many Swedes pledging to throw their support behind the Norwegians. Even the players; "I hope Norway," "Waltzing" Matilda Boson said, when asked which team she thought would win gold. And the fans were on board.

"It's always special between Norway and Sweden, like in any game," Niklas Highstone said. "Now we just hug each other."

"In Sweden we have a lot of jokes with Norway people and they have the same with Swedes," Daniel Nilsson said.

"How many Norwegians does it take to switch on a lamp, jokes like that," Highstone said.

"On Thursday we go for Norway, no problem at all," said Torbjorn Henriksson, whose wife is half-Norwegian.

"In a way, [Sweden] are the big brother of Norway, not in handball but in general," said Sindre Olsen, from Norway's Channel 2.

"They seem to be known more worldwide than Norway," his colleague, Torbjorn Pedersen, agreed. "Norway looks up to Sweden in many things."

"They have Volvo and Ikea, they have international companies," Sindre said. "They have the music - Abba. They're better than us in football."

"No one really cares about the Finns," said Torbjorn, while telling me the classic Norwegian joke about how many Swedes does it take to change a lightbulb.

"They are the weird neighbors," agreed Sindre, who said that the Norwegians identify far more with the Danes and Swedes.

Most crucially, it turns out that the Swedes and Norwegians in Beijing have been partying together every night at Swedish table tennis legend Jan-Ove Waldner's Beijing pub, which is right around the corner from Workers Stadium, where Brazil and Argentina just finished playing football. Worth a look.

By Dan Steinberg  |  August 19, 2008; 11:59 AM ET
Categories:  Olympics  
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Next: Athletes and Their Medals


I wanted to know the answer to the jokes.

Posted by: sitruc | August 20, 2008 6:56 PM | Report abuse

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