Host City: Beijing, China
Venue(s): National Indoor Stadium, , Beijing; Olympic Sports Centre Gymnasium, Beijing
Date Started: August 9, 2008
Date Finished: August 23, 2008
Format: Round-robin pools advance teams to classification matches.
The 12 women’s teams qualified for the 2008 Olympics as follows – China as the host nation; Russia as the 2007 World Champion; the top six teams from the 2008 Olympic Qualifying Tournament (Germany, Sweden, Romania, Hungary, France, South Korea); the 2006 European Champion (Norway); Brazil as the 2007 Pan American Games Champion; and the winners of the 2007 Asian and 2008 African Olympic Qualifying Tournaments (Kazakhstan, Angola, respectively). A surprising absentee was Denmark, winner of the past three Olympic gold medals. They had failed to qualify after finishing only 11th at the 2006 Europeans.
The absence of Denmark made the two favorites Russia (the reigning World Champion) and Norway (runner-up). Both nations placed top of their pool in Beijing, Norway winning each of its five pool matches, while Russia drew South Korea, the 2004 silver medallists. Norway also had little trouble making the semi-finals, beating Sweden easily 31-24. The Russians faced a tougher opponent in France, which they only overcame in extra time after tying 24-24. The other two semi-finalists were South Korea and Hungary, both traditionally strong handball nations.
Russia faced Hungary in the semi-finals, taking a strong lead in the first half (14-9). Hungary then managed a slight comeback, but nothing that worried the Russians, who made their first Olympic final – although the Soviet Union had won two golds in 1976 and 1980. The other semi-final was between Norway and South Korea, the 1988 and 1992 Olympic finalists. Korea took a four-point lead halfway through the first half, but by the whistle, the Norwegians had closed it to 15-14. They opened strongly in the second half, pulling away to 20-17. In the last minute, with Norway short-handed, the Koreans scored three times to tie the match at 28-28. The last goal by Mun Pil-Hui came with 7 seconds left on the clock. With some of the Koreans still cheering, the Norwegians quickly restarted play, passed twice, and Gro Hammerseng put the ball in the lower left corner – right at the horn for full time. The Koreans immediately protested the goal was made after full time, but the goal was allowed. Korea did not give up, and their coach continued arguing with the match officials for close to an hour, and Korea lodged various official protests, all of which were denied.
Norway and Russia met in the final of a major tournament for the fourth time since 2001, with the Russians having won two of these encounters. But compared to the semi-finals, the final was hardly a contest. Within 10 minutes, the Norwegians had pulled away to 9-2 lead, after which they controlled the match. Russia managed to end the first half at 18-13, but never had a chance in the second half. Norway managed to make the gap as wide as 34-23 with slightly over a minute to play. Four late goals by the Russians couldn't prevent a clear Norwegian victory – the first ever at the Olympics. Korea had bounced back after the deception in the semi-finals, and defeated Hungary for the bronze, the country's sixth Olympic medal in women's handball.