Host City: Beijing, China
Venue(s): National Indoor Stadium, , Beijing; Olympic Sports Centre Gymnasium, Beijing
Date Started: August 10, 2008
Date Finished: August 24, 2008
Format: Round-robin pools advance teams to classification matches.
The 12 men’s teams qualified for the 2008 Olympics as follows – China as the host nation; Germany as the 2007 World Champion; the top six teams from the 2008 Olympic Qualifying Tournament (Poland, Iceland, France, Spain, Croatia, Russia); the 2008 European Champion (Denmark); Brazil as the 2007 Pan American Games Champion; and the winners of the 2007 Asian and 2008 African Olympic Qualifying Tournaments (South Korea and Egypt, respectively).
The story of the 2008 men’s handball competition was that of a country of only 320,000 inhabitants. Despite its size, Iceland had been a handball nation since the 1950s, although they had never medalled internationally. At the 1992 Olympics, they had come closest, losing the bronze medal match to France. At the 2012 Olympics, their pool stage performance was a mixed bag\: wins against Russia and World Champion Germany, but also ties to Denmark and Egypt, and a loss to South Korea. In the incredibly tight pool rankings, this placed them third, while the Germans were out. Iceland played Poland in the quarter-finals. Poland had been the runner-up at the 2007 World Championships, and had beaten Iceland at the Olympic Qualifying Tournament. But the Icelanders’ tough defense and accurate fast-breaks put them in a 5-goal lead at half-time, from which the Poles never recovered.
In the semi-finals, Spain awaited. Having twice medalled at the Olympics, Spain had claimed the 2005 world title. But as against Poland, the Icelanders dominated and eventually easily won 36-30 to earn their first ever spot in a major international final. Hoping to claim the nation’s first ever gold medal, Iceland faced France in the final. The country’s president Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson, who called it the “biggest moment in Icelandic sports history”, was in attendance at the National Indoor Stadium, while most of the country came to a halt to watch the game on television. But the French, who had been favored for the gold back in Athens 2004, opened up a four goal lead, supported by their strong goalkeeper [Thierry Omeyer]. In the second half France, even increased its lead to a huge 9 points, but the match eventually ended in a 28-23 victory for the French. As with Iceland, it was France’s first ever Olympic medal in handball. In the match for bronze, defending champions Croatia failed to medal, losing 35-29 to Spain.