Women's Saber Fencing Sweep Brings USA First Three Medals

Mariel Zagunis won the first U.S. gold medal of the Beijing Olympics, leading an American sweep Saturday in women’s saber fencing.

Zagunis, the 2004 saber champion, took the gold with a 15-8 victory over Sada Jacobson, who took the silver. Becca Ward took the bronze.

When Zagunis won four years ago, she was the first American in a century to win a fencing gold. Now, it’s becoming commonplace in this event. The U.S. will also be favored to win the team competition in women’s saber.

Before the fencing medals were awarded, the Americans had been shut out of Olympic medals completely, trailing the likes of Cuba, North Korea, Taiwan and Uzbekistan in the overall standings. Now, the U.S. is the only country with three medals.

Jacobson, of Dunwoody, Ga., won the bronze in 2004. She was the top seed in this year’s competition but couldn’t overcome Zagunis in the final. Zagunis, of Beaverton, Ore., led throughout the gold-medal bout — her most lopsided win of the tournament.

Zagunis and Ward, members of the same Oregon fencing club, met in the semifinals. Zagunis prevailed 15-11, and Ward left the competition area in tears.

“That was probably the hardest bout I’ve ever fenced in my career,” Zagunis said.

Ward still looked shaken when she came out for the bronze-medal match, and she fell behind 6-1 to Russia’s Sofiya Velikaya. But the 18-year-old from Portland, Ore., rallied for a dramatic 15-14 victory that ensured a U.S. sweep.

Credit: Associated Press