ATHENS, Greece -- The United States won its first fencing medals in 20 years on Tuesday, including a gold by Mariel Zagunis in the saber competition.
Zagunis beat Tan Xue of China 15-9 in the final, giving the United States two of the three medals. American Sada Jacobson won the bronze, beating
Catalina Gheorghitoaia of Romania 15-7.
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. Tan beat Jacobson 15-12 in one semifinal to reach the gold-medal match. In the quarterfinals, Jacobson 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 honestly, really expected Emily to make the (final) eight. 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.
Zagunis, of Beaverton, Ore., defeated Elena Jemayeva of Azerbaijan 15-11 to advance to the semifinals. 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.
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 either the tip or the edge of the blade.