2012 was a great year for Icelandic sports. It might even have been the best one yet, although such a comparison is difficult for many reasons. But lets take a look at what made 2012 special.
Icelandic basketball returned to something resembling relevance again, as FIBA Europe, the governing body for basketball in Europe, changed the qualification form for EuroBasket, the main regional international competition. In 2012, the 31 teams that did not qualify through the Olympic games were divided into groups to play for the remaining spots, as opposed to a former system that used tiered stages of competition. This meant that quality international basketball returned to Iceland for the first time in decades, with international basketball strongholds like Israel and Serbia and Montenegro playing in Iceland. The Icelandic team did not qualify, but did more than enough to earn our respect for their efforts, and gave us some great memories from 2012.
In handball, the unofficial national sport, both the men’s and the women’s team qualified for the European tournament. The men’s team finished 10th, and the ladies finished 15th, something that could probably be improved upon, but let’s face it, a country of 300,000 thousand people should be grateful for every major tournament in team sports it qualifies for. In addition, the men’s team made the Olympics, where they fought to the very end, before being eliminated by one goal in a nail biter of a double overtime game in the quarterfinals. I would not hesitate to say that the team would have come home with another medal (it won silver at the 2008 Olympics) if it had pulled through to the semi-finals.
While we are on the Olympics, let’s sing praises to the other Icelandic contestants. Ragna Ingólfsdóttir became the first Icelandic player to win a game of badminton for Iceland in the Olympics. She did lose her next match against the 20th world ranked Jie Yao from the Netherlands. Javelin thrower Ásdís Hjálmsdóttir finished 11th, after qualifying with new Icelandic record. Kári Steinn Karlsson was the first Icelander to finish a marathon at the Olympics, finishing 42nd, passing more than fifty runners along 42 km run, all with a small stone in his shoe. Icelandic swimmers turned in a very respectable performance and even broke or tied a few Icelandic records.
The women’s national football team qualified for the European Finals in 2013 and is currently ranked 15th in the world. The men’s team may have started a long ascend from irrelevance under the steadfast direction of Swede Lars Lagerbäck and new and impressive generation of young players who mostly ply their trade abroad. After impressive wins against Norway and Albania, the team climbed down to a double-digit placement in the world rankings. It currently sits third in its heat and is still eyeing qualification to the World Cup in Brazil 2014.
Notable achievements were reached in weight lifting, with Júlían Karl Jóhannsson and Auðunn Jónsson both winning world championships in deadlift for their respective weights. Sixteen-year-old Aníta Hinriksdóttir placed 4th in 800-metres at the Junior World Championships in track. Even more impressive was the success of the Icelandic women’s gymnastics team that won the European title in team gymnastics, as well as the junior title.
But the year’s most impressive showing probably came at the hands of the four-member Icelandic team in the Paralympics in London, where three Icelandic records were broken, in addition to Jón Margeir Péturson’s European, Olympian and World record-breaking time in his group for the 200-metre freestyle.