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Fencer Dagmara Wozniak Says It’s A Medal Or Bust At Rio Olympics

By Tony Lee | Dec. 21, 2015, 10:46 a.m. (ET)

Dagmara Wozniak (L) competes against Alejandra Benitez of Venezuela during the women's individual saber final at the Toronto 2015 Pan American Games on July 20, 2015 in Toronto.

Saber fencer Dagmara Wozniak was not entirely pleased with her result — or the results of her fellow Americans — at the recent FIE Grand Prix Boston on the campus of Harvard University.

Wozniak’s round-of-32 finish tied for the best U.S. result at the home competition.

But she’s not dwelling on it.

She knows it’s all part of a process that, if all goes well, will eventually lead to Olympic glory in Rio de Janeiro next summer.

“I’ve been doing this for 18 years. You’ve got to put it behind you,” she said. “In terms of Rio being the end result, there’s no way to possibly continue training with a result like that weighing on your shoulders. You’ve got to put it aside and move forward.”

Wozniak, who is the second-ranked U.S. woman in the world at No. 7, was one of five American fencers to reach the round of 32 in the grand prix, but her run ended there with a 15-11 loss to Korea’s Jisu Yoon. The 27-year-old Wozniak took comfort in the presence in Boston of her mother and two dear friends, each of whom helped her to get past the disappointing result, and she quickly turned the page.

After tasting the Olympic Games as a replacement athlete in Beijing in 2008 and as an eighth-place finisher in London in 2012, Wozniak is committed to getting back to the Games in 2016. But this time it’s not just to watch, and improving upon results like the one in Boston is imperative for this fierce competitor.

“I do have high expectations for us going into Rio and then, individually, regardless of what people think, if you’re not trying to win gold, you don’t just go to participate,” she said. “That’s my opinion. I technically already did that in London. I got eighth place; not bad. I know I was the underdog going in and nobody expected me to win a medal, but I had expectations for myself.

“I worked so hard for so long, dedicated so much time, and to not set a goal of gold for yourself … just participating is not, to me, something to be proud of. I wouldn’t sacrifice so much time and energy, blood, sweat and tears just to say, ‘Hey, let me get a participation medal.’”

It’s that sort of drive that has guided Wozniak through a career filled with achievement. After helping Team USA win bronze medals in three straight world championships, Wozniak and Team USA won gold in 2014 — the team’s first title since 2005. Most recently she won an individual gold medal at the Pan American Games in Toronto this summer.

That drive will also guide Wozniak into training camp in her birthplace of Poland next month in advance of the women’s saber world cup at the end of January in Athens.

The intensity of that competition is sure to be high as the days tick off to Rio and athletes the world over aim to qualify. Having gone through the process twice before, Wozniak is confident she will be unbothered by the stress level of those around her.

“In terms of it getting more nerve-wracking, I don’t think I’ll necessarily feel that just because I was able to go through the process in 2008 when I tried to make the team, and qualifying individually in London,” she said.

“I went through both ways of how you qualify, and it’s just not new to me. I know the process, I know what it takes. I have ideas of what it takes. Things might pick up, but it’s not necessarily fazing to me. I think it might be for some people who are doing it for the first time.”

Wozniak knows that experience and a lofty ranking are not nearly enough to get to the top, and she recognizes that the field, both home and abroad, is as loaded — and athletic — as ever. 

“People are getting stronger, they’re trying to get faster and I think that trying to keep up with that is difficult, but I think it makes the sport a lot more developed than what it was before,” she added. “I think we’re just becoming more athletic than before. We see people coming in and they’re just ready to move, and if you want to be able to move against them, or be able to take them out, then you better be not just working at fencing practice.

“There are so many other factors that are getting involved that I think weren’t involved in the beginning.”

She cites an increase in cross training, especially among European fencers, as one factor that makes athletes ready to pounce.

“Everyone’s stepping up their game, and it’s really become a combat sport,” she said.

Wozniak expects to step up her game in the coming weeks and months and — despite a slight downturn — she remains focused on the process.

Tony Lee is a sportswriter from Boston. He is a freelance contributor to TeamUSA.org on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.

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Dagmara Wozniak