handball, russia, france, BRAZIL RIO 2016 OLYMPIC GAMES.jpg
Vladlena Bobrovnikova (facing) of Russia in action with Siraba Dembele of France during women's gold medal match between France and Russia of the Rio 2016 Olympic Games at the Future Arena in the Olympic Park in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, 20 August 2016.
Photograph: EPA/MARIJAN MURAT

Russia's female handball players are bringing home their first-ever gold medal after defeating France Saturday at the Rio Olympics.

Russia hung on to their lead through much of the match, reaching 10-7 at the end of the first half before going on to win 22-19. France managed to equalize 14-14 with just over 14 minutes to go, but then fell behind again.

Russia had previously managed to win only one medal in women's handball - a silver at the 2008 Beijing Games. In Rio, they made their way through the tournament unbeaten.

"I think I'm the happiest woman in the world right now," Russian player Anna Vyakhireva told journalists after the match. "We were the best team and we really believed in it, the whole group."

France also broke new ground by reaching the final of the tournament for the first time and taking their first Olympic medal with silver.

"I'm really proud of what we've done in this tournament," French player Allison Pineau said. "We really fought with everything we had [today]."

Norway had been favourites in the competition, but missed the Rio final after narrowly losing to Russia in a 38-37 semi-final thriller. They finished with the bronze medal on Saturday.

"We were really, really disappointed after semi-finals, so we had to put that behind us and show Norway and our coaches that we are better than how we played in the semi-finals," player Marit Malm Frafjord said.

Norway never yielded the lead to the Netherlands in the bronze bout, finishing the first half 19-13 before going on to win 36-26.

"It felt good to come back strong after the Russian game. It was nothing else in our heads other than we are just going to take this bronze medal home," player Amanda Kurtovic said, noting that there had been "a lot of crying" after the semi-final loss.

Norway had clinched gold in the competition at both the Beijing Olympics in 2008 and the London Olympics in 2012.

With the bronze, Norway have equalled South Korea as the team with the most medals in Olympic women's handball at six.

The men's final is on Sunday, with France and Denmark contending for gold. Germany and Poland will be playing for bronze.

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