Norwegian women take handball gold

Aug. 23, 2008, 8:01 a.m. (ET)

BEIJING (AP) Norway cruised to its first Olympic gold medal in women's handball on Saturday, overpowering Russia 34-27 and avenging a loss in the world championship finals last year.

Else Lybekk and Linn-Kristen Riegelhuth traded goals early on to make it 8-1 after just eight minutes. The two-time silver medalists were never in danger of losing from then on, harrying the Russians in defense and breaking fast on the counter.

"We decided to rush them from the start," said Norwegian defender Goreil Snorroeggen. "Today, Russia were not on the same level as us. Maybe they were tired, I don't know, but it was a good day to meet them."

Russia, which like Norway was unbeaten so far in Beijing, rallied briefly toward the end of the first half when two goals by Elena Postnova made the score 18-13, but Norway came out strongly after the break, ending any chance of a comeback.

Russia, which beat Norway in 2007 to become world champions, made frequent errors in front of goal, failed to convert seven-meter free throws and appeared powerless to stop Lybekk sneaking in behind the defense to latch on to low passes.

"Today we were beaten on every front, we could not do anything," said Russia coach Evgeny Trefilov. "We had nothing to threaten the Norwegians. I can not say any of my players did well."

Earlier, South Korea beat Hungary 33-28 to claim the bronze medal.

Riegelhuth was Norway's top scorer with nine goals out of 10 shots, easily the most accurate striker on the court at National Indoor Stadium.

"We were very fast on the break and changed direction well," she said.

Norway and Russia are the two European powerhouses in handball, but have never won gold at the event.

Norway earned silver medals in 1988 and 1992 and the bronze in 2000. The Unified Team won bronze in 1992, and the Soviet Union took bronze in 1988.

The two sides were easily the strongest in this year's games.

Russia lost only one point in the preliminaries, but had a tough time in the quarterfinals, needing double extra time to see off France. Norway won all their seven competition matches, though sneaked past South Korea by just one point in the semifinals.