You may or may not have heard that the first Olympic gold medal awarded to an American was in women’s sabre – and the U.S. swept the event, picking up the silver and bronze as well. While the U.S.’s lack of a long history of fencing and pedigree in most of the weapons means they don’t often contend for a medal, the States were well ahead of the curve training young women to fence sabre, resulting in total dominance in these early years of international women’s sabre.
Mariel Zagunis, once again showing she’s at her best when the cameras are on her, beat her teammate, number one ranked Sada Jacobson. Jacobson was widely expected to win the gold when women’s sabre first became an Olympic event in Athens, but she lost her semi-final bout to Tan Xue of China. Zagunis snatched the first women’s sabre gold ever awarded without facing her higher ranked teammate in the final legs of the competition. I can only surmise that Sada was more than a little dissatisfied with the bronze, and some of my own fencing friends were convinced that had she fenced Mariel, she would have beaten her.
Little did we know that that very scenario would play out at this games…in the gold medal bout, no less… and that Mariel would put a thorough beating on her teammate (final score 15-8, but honestly, it could have been even more lopsided). This is now a true rivalry between two American fencers contending for the top spot on the world stage…something I’ve certainly never seen before. Throw into the mix 18-year-old fencing phenom Becca Ward, and you’ve got an American contingent that dominates the way the Italians dominate women’s foil (they did not sweep this year, by the way, but Valentina Vezzali, probably the best women’s foil fencer since women were fencing in those funny looking bloomers, won her third straight olympic gold).
*Attack [verb/noun]: Movement towards your opponent with intent to hit (In foil and sabre, initiating the attack carries with it the “right” to hit one’s opponent. The other fencer needs to defend the attack in some way to gain the right of way.)