Mariel Zagunis, the most decorated U.S. fencer, will have another chance at gold this summer at the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020, and she’ll be bringing the U.S. women’s saber team with her.
Zagunis took home the gold medal on Saturday at the FIE World Cup in Athens, Greece, and on Sunday she helped the U.S. team finished eleventh. Those results secured Olympic spots both for the veteran Zagunis and the squad, which will aim to improve upon its bronze medal from four years ago in Rio.
Zagunis, 35, of Beaverton, Oregon, made her first Olympics in 2004, when she was upgraded from a replacement athlete and went on to become the first U.S. fencer in 100 years to claim a gold medal. She went on to successfully defend that gold medal in 2008, and also won team bronze medals in 2008 and 2016.
The Tokyo Games will be her fifth, and her first as a mom. Zagunis gave birth to daughter Sunday Noelle in October 2017. In addition to her Olympic success, the 2013 FIE Hall of Fame inductee also has two individual world titles to her name, plus three team world titles. Her first came in 2000 at age 15.
With the team qualification, the U.S. can now bring three women’s saber fencers to Tokyo, plus one replacement athlete who is eligible only for the team competition. The three athletes who will join Zagunis have yet to be determined.
Eliza Stone, Zagunis, Kamali Thompson and Francesca Russo comprised the squad that nailed down qualification on Sunday, and those four also made up the top four positions in the U.S. Olympic rankings heading into Athens.
A U.S. team featuring Zagunis, Chloe Fox-Gitomer, Stone and Thompson won a world cup bronze medal in December 2019 in Salt Lake City, the last world cup competition before this weekend. It was the team’s first time on the podium in nearly three years. The U.S. finished ninth at the world cup opener in France in November 2019.
Stone, 29, of Chicago is currently the top-ranked U.S. women’s saber fencer and No. 5 in the world. She’s never competed in the Olympics but won the bronze medal — her first individually — at the 2018 world championships to add to her collection of three team world medals, and also won gold at the Pan American Games last summer.
Zagunis falls just behind her in the U.S. rankings, followed by Thompson, 28, of Teaneck, New Jersey, and Russo, 24, of Wayne, New Jersey. Both Thompson, a former Temple fencing star also studying to become an orthopedic sports medicine surgeon, and Russo, a Notre Dame graduate, are also seeking their first trips to the Olympics.
As a team, the U.S. is currently ranked No. 5 in the world behind Russia, France, Italy and South Korea.
In addition to winning team bronze in 2016, the U.S. also won team bronze in 2008 at the Olympic Games Beijing. The women’s team saber event was not held in 2012.