The comeback trail for America’s greatest fencer could not have brought her first international medal as a mom on a more fitting day: Mother’s Day.
Seven months – to the day – after giving birth to daughter Sunday Noelle Swehla, Mariel Zagunis won bronze at the women’s saber grand prix in Moscow.
Zagunis, who is the most decorated fencer in U.S. history with two individual Olympic gold medals, two team Olympic bronzes and 13 world championship medals, last medaled internationally when she took bronze at the Seoul Grand Prix in March 2017, while pregnant with Sunday.
After taking a year off from the sport, Zagunis finished eighth in her return at the 2018 edition of the Seoul Grand Prix in March. The following month, the 33-year-old competed at her first national championships in a decade and won gold.
She entered the Moscow tournament ranked 77th and is now 27th after taking down now-63rd-ranked Rajin Lee of Korea (15-11), world No. 11 Manon Brunet of France (15-11) and 12th-ranked Yana Egorian of Russia (15-11) to reach the quarterfinals.
Zagunis then made it to the semifinals with a 15-10 victory over 13th-ranked Liza Pusztai of Hungary. She missed reaching the championship match by just three points, losing 15-12 to third-seeded Anna Marton of Hungary in the semifinals.
Sofya Velikaya of Russia won the gold medal, defeating Marton in the final 15-12, while Korea’s Jiyeon Kim took the other bronze.
The next top-level women’s saber event is a world cup in June in Tunis, Tunisia.
Paul D. Bowker has been writing about Olympic sports since 1996, when he was an assistant bureau chief in Atlanta. He is sports editor of the Cape Cod Times and a freelance contributor to TeamUSA.org on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.