Aug. 17, 2004
ATHENS, Greece -
Mariel Zagunis - a star signee with the Notre Dame fencing program who delayed her enrollment until the 2004 fall semester in order to make a run at Olympic glory - is one one win away from winning the gold medale and alread is assured of becoming the first U.S. women's fencer ever to medal at the Olympics (just a handful of U.S. men's fencers have medaled, last in '84).
Zagunis has advanced to the women's sabre final versus China's Xue Tan, with the gold-medal bout to be held today (Aug. 17) at 12:25 p.m. South Bend time (the event is sold out). NBC's broadcasting partner Bravo also will show Olympic fencing footage later today, at 4:00 p.m. in South Bend.
The semifinals saw Zagunis defeat Catalina Gheorghitoaia of Romania, 15-10. Zagunis won six straight points to claim a 6-1 lead and led 8-2 at the break before weathering a minor comeback by Gheorghitoaia, with Zagunis using her patience and strength to close out the win. In the other semifinal, U.S. standout Sada Jacobson could not overcome Tan's athletic distance in a 15-12 decision.
Zagunis entered the Olympics with a No. 4 world ranking, behind Jacobson, Russia's Elena Netchaeva and France's Anne-Lise Tonya (Gheorghitoaia is 11th in the world rankings and Tan is 5th).
See the following link for a feature story on Zagunis: http://www.collegesports.com/sports/c-fenc/stories/061504aaa.html
"At this stage of the game, it's completely mental," said Zagunis, a native of Beaverton, Ore., who trained at the Northwest Fencing Alliance elite sabre academy alongside current Notre Dame fencers Valerie Providenza, Angela Vincent and Patrick Ghattas.
"I think that it's really who can play the mental game the best (that) is going to win."
Women's sabre is the newest of fencing's six disciplines and is making its first appearance in the Olympics - but women's foil has been an Olympic event since 1924 and epee bouts have been contested sine the 1996 Olympics. The 2004 Olympics do not feature a team event in women's sabre (as in the other men's and women's weapons) but the U.S. would be heavy favorites in such a competition (with three of the world's top10 ranked women's sabre fencers). 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.
The last U.S. fencer to medal in the Olympics was Peter Westbrook, the 1984 bronze medalist in men's sabre.
With Athens Olympic Organizing Committee Chairwoman Gianna Angelopoulos-Daskalaki looking on, Jacobson defeated Leonore Perrus of France 15-11 in the sabre quarterfinals Tuesday morning at the Helliniko Olympic Complex. Zagunis then won her quarterfinal by the same score (15-11) over Elena Jemayeva of Azerbaijan (the world's #14-ranked women's sabre fencer).
Zagunis made it to the semifinals by breaking an 11-11 tie with a 4-0 run against Jemayeva. Along the way, her Azerbaijani opponent drew a yellow card from Korean referee Chung Gon Kim. The quickly-moving bout lasted just 55 seconds, with Zagunis claiming an early 2-0 lead before ties at 3, 4 and 5. Zagunis led 8-5 at the midpoint but Jemayeva stormed back to forge a 9-9 tie (then 11-11 as well).
In the round of 16, Zagunis knocked off Japan's Madoka Hisagae (#31 in the world) following a longer bout (2:39) that saw the score tied 1o times from 4-4 to 13-13. Zagunis had led 3-0 before losing the next four touches. She then led 8-7 at the midpoint and won the final two points for the 15-13 victory.
France's Perrus had eliminated Jacobson's sister Emily (15-13 in the round of 16), eliminating the possibility of the sisters fencing each other (Emily Jacobson is 10th in the world rankings).
Sada Jacobson, ranked No. 1 in the world in individual sabre, touched her blade to Perrus' right shoulder to end a quarterfinal match that was interrupted for several minutes in the first period because of an injury to Perrus' right middle finger. The incident happened as Sada opened a 7-4 lead with a slashing defensive backhand touch to Perrus' jacket. Her follow-through caught the tip of Perrus' finger, and the Frenchwoman waited 10 minutes before accepting a glove from her team's trainer.
Perrus rallied after the injury and trailed 8-7 early in the second period. Jacobson soon took control of the match. When she opened an 11-8 lead, Perrus protested the point. After a brief comeback, she went into another tirade when Jacobson put a blade across her collar to make it 12-10. Jacobson, who drew a bye in the round of 32, made short work of Cuba's Ana Faez Miclin in the round of 16, breaking a 2-2 tie with a 6-1 run and drawing off to win 15-4.
Emily Jacobson defeated Tsz Ki Chow 15-11 in the round of 32 before being eliminated by Perrus. Perrus put together a 3-0 run to overtake the younger Jacobson for an 8-7 lead at the end of the first period. But after the Frenchwoman made it 9-7, Emily went on a 3-0 run of her own, including her quickest thrust of the match. Trailing 14-11, Jacobson scored a touch to Perrus' jacket, just below her right arm, and touched her again to make it 14-13. But Perrus got her blade on Emily's mask to put away the match and eliminated the world's No. 10 fencer.