Mariel Zagunis, who will be a freshman at Notre Dame in 2004, won the first fencing gold medal for the United States since 1904.

Mariel Zagunis Wins Gold Medal In Women's Sabre

Aug. 17, 2004

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Content provided by the AP’s DAVID MORDKOFF, U.S. Fencing and

ATHENS, Greece – Incoming Notre Dame freshman Mariel Zagunis (Beaverton, Ore.) won the gold medal in the Olympic individual women’s sabre event. With American flags waving in the sold-out stands, Zagunis commanded the bout against Xue Tan of China from the beginning, running an 8-2 streak by the first break. Zagunis fenced with tenacity and imagination,scoring for instance with point-in-line at 5-2. After the break Tan rallied, changing her game and taking the score back up to 10-6 to the chants of the large contingent from China. But Zagunis was not to be denied and gritted out the next few touches to finally win 15-9. She was immediately tossed in the air by her teammates, who rushed the piste. Moments before the gold-medal bout, fellow U.S. standout Sada Jacobson (Dunwoody, Ga.) claimed the bronze medal – with Zagunis technically becoming the first U.S. women’s fencer ever to clinch an Olympic medal (the color, gold or silver, just had yet to be determined). Zagunis and Jacobson are the first U.S. fencers to medal at the Olympics in 20 years. For the first time since 1904, the Star Spangled Banner will be played at an Olympic fencing medal ceremony (recognizing the gold-medal winner). Zagunis’ win avenged Jacobson’s earlier 12-15 loss to Tan. For her part, Jacobson defeated Leonore Perrus of France in the quarterfinals, who had earlier knocked younger sister Emily Jacobson out of the event in the round of 16. Jacobson commandingly defeated Catalina Gheorghitoaia of Romania in the bronze-medal bout. She led the bout from the beginning and gained momentum throughout, leading 8-5 at the break and 15-7 in the end. The previous American medal in the sport was in Los Angeles in 1984, when Peter Westbrook won the bronze in men’s sabre.

Zagunis defeated Elena Jemayeva of Azerbaijan 15-11 to advance to the semifinals.

With so many highly-skilled fencers competing, factors beyond skill and preparation come into play.

“At this stage of the game, it’s completely mental,” Zagunis said.

Tan beat Jacobson 15-12 in one semifinal to reach the gold-medal match.

In the quarterfinals, Jacobson beat Leonore Perrus of France 15-11. Perrus had knocked out Sada’s sister, Emily, 15-13 in the round of 16, preventing the sisters from playing each other.

“I honestly, really expected Emily to make the (final) eight. I had really thought she was going to do it. I had really prepared myself to fence her,” Sada Jacobson said. “I’m sorry she didn’t win her bout, but when it comes down to it, it was only going to be one of us, anyway.”

In men’s epee competition, Soren Thompson of San Diego upset No. 2 seed Alfredo Rota of Italy to reach the quarterfinals, where he lost to Russia’s Pavel Kolobkov, the 2000 gold medalist.

Sada Jacobson trailed in the early going against Perrus but she took the lead at 4-3 and never relinquished it, defending her family pride in the process.

“I don’t like anyone beating up on my little sister,” she said with a smile.

Sada Jacobson is ranked No. 1 in the world and Zagunis is ranked fourth. Tan is No. 5.

Women’s sabre is the newest of fencing’s six disciplines and is making its first appearance in the Olympics. The first world championship in women’s sabre was held in 1999.

Sabre is the fastest of fencing’s three weapons. The target area is the entire body above the bend in the hips, including the head. Unlike in foil and epee, sabre fencers can score with either the tip or the edge of the blade.