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Tuesday, August 17, 2004
Gold is first for U.S. fencer since 1904

Associated Press

ATHENS, Greece -- For the first time in a century, the United States won a gold medal in Olympic fencing, and it added a bronze for good measure.

Oregon resident Mariel Zagunis beat Tan Xue of China 15-9 in the saber final, and American Sada Jacobson was third, beating Catalina Gheorghitoaia of Romania 15-7.

"I don't even know what to say right now," Zagunis said. "I'm so happy."

The United States had never won a medal in women's fencing. The last American medal in the sport was in Los Angeles in 1984, when Peter Westbrook won the bronze in men's saber.

Zagunis, of Beaverton, Ore., controlled the final, charging in on the opening point to score the first touch. Throughout the bout she took the initiative, scoring repeatedly on direct attacks. She also had enough versatility to defend herself on Tan's charges, and score on the counter-attack.

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

In the quarterfinals, Jacobson, of suburban Atlanta, 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 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 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.

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

Saber 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, saber fencers can score with the tip or the edge of the blade.

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

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.

She nearly didn't make it to this stage, just missing out on qualifying for the Olympics in April. She didn't earn a spot on the U.S. team until June, when the Nigerian Olympic Committee declined to have its fencer participate in the competition.

That opened up a spot in the field, which Zagunis filled as the highest-ranked fencer in the world who had not already qualified.