Domers shine in Athens
Matt Lozar | Sunday, August 22, 2004
Winning an Olympic gold medal is a pretty unique answer to the standard question of “How was your summer?”Incoming freshman fencer Mariel Zagunis can now say just that.Zagunis won the women’s individual sabre competition Tuesday in Athens, Greece becoming the first U.S. fencer to medal since 1984 and the first to win a gold medal since 1904.”I don’t even know what to say right now,” Zagunis told the Associated Press. “I’m so happy.”Zagunis defeated China’s Tan Xue 15-9 in the sabre final. Tan beat U.S. fencer Sada Jacobson – who went on to win the bronze medal – in the semifinals. The U.S. team appropriately rushed the strip when Zagunis scored the winning point.”There’s no better feeling than being thrown up there after becoming champion of anything,” Zagunis said of her teammates tossing her in the air. “I’m glad they could get on stage and celebrate with me like that.”Zagunis had the opportunity to win the gold medal after deferring her enrollment to Notre Dame. Signing with Notre Dame in November 2002, Zagunis didn’t enroll in August 2003 because of the rigorous and demanding Olympic qualifying schedule.That was something Notre Dame fencing coach Janusz Bednarski knew about when he was recruiting the star junior fencer two years ago. “She had to take a leave for the Olympic games that she wouldn’t be able to make it with the crazy schedule,” Bednarski said.But Bednarski also had to sell Zagunis and her family on the ability to continue fencing at a world-class level while surviving in the classroom.”The academic challenge of Notre Dame sometimes makes athletes frightened because they know the daily schedule is very tough,” Bednarski said. “I think it’s a challenge for us and for her. We have to take care of her. She is a talented kid.”While Zagunis didn’t attend Notre Dame for a year, she wasn’t even on the U.S. Olympic team until June. Zagunis lost in the semifinals of a tournament in March to Sada Jacobson by one touch (a point in fencing). That loss dropped Zagunis to No. 11 in the world rankings and left Jacobson’s sister Emily at No. 10 in the world. The qualifying system left Zagunis as the Olympic’s first alternate and both Jacobson sisters going to Greece.When the Nigerian team declined its Olympic spot, Zagunis claimed the spot at the top-ranked fencer in the April 1 rankings not currently qualified for the Olympics.The fateful turn of events paved the way to Zagunis’ gold medal.”I’m just happy in the first place that I was able to come here and compete,” Zagunis said.Bednarski said Zagunis was initially slated to return to South Bend on Friday. With her success, those plans could change as the United States Olympic Committee might want Zagunis to participate in the closing ceremonies Aug. 30, meaning Zagunis would get to campus a few days later.