The last time a women's team saber fencing event was contested at an Olympics was at the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games, where the U.S. women won bronze. Now they will have the opportunity to better that bronze eight years later, as the U.S. women’s saber team has qualified for the Rio 2016 Olympic Games.
After a fourth-place finish at the Athens world cup on Sunday, the U.S. women's team sits in fourth in the Olympic rankings, guaranteeing itself a spot in Rio, along with Russia, Ukraine and France. The remaining four teams will be determined by April 4.
Qualifying a team earns the U.S. not only a team spot, but three individual quota spots as well.
Two of those three spots will be filled by Mariel Zagunis and Ibtihaj Muhammad. Zagunis, a two-time Olympic champion, struck gold on Saturday in Athens, the site of her first Olympic gold medal, while Muhammad earned the bronze. The medal-winning performances helped the two earn enough points in the national senior team point standings to lock in their spots in Rio, according to USA Fencing.
The point standings do not officially come to a close until the Division I National Championships in April, but Zagunis and Muhammad will remain atop the standings. Currently in third is 2012 Olympian Dagmara Wozniak, followed by Sage Palmedo. The fourth-ranked athlete will be chosen as a replacement athlete for the team event only.
The women’s saber team is the third U.S. fencing team to qualify for Rio. The men’s foil team qualified in January as the top-ranked team in its Olympic rankings, and the women’s epee team punched its ticket later in the month, ranking fifth overall and first in its zone with one qualifying event remaining. The men's epee team has yet to qualify.
At the 2008 Olympics, the U.S. women’s saber team left Beijing with four medals. Individually, the women swept the podium, with Mariel Zagunis earning gold, Sada Jacobson silver and Becca Ward bronze. The three then joined forces to take bronze in the team event. With only the individual event contested at the London 2012 Olympic Games, the U.S. women were shut out of the medals with Zagunis falling in the semifinals to take fourth place.
Since London, the U.S. women claimed the world title in 2014 and finished third at the 2013 and 2015 FIE World Championships. Though they haven’t won any team world cup medals yet in the 2015-16 season, the years following London saw them rake in 11 world cup medals including a gold each year.