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London Olympics: Mariel Zagunis rolls into semifinals in fencing

August 01, 2012|By Philip Hersh
  • Mariel Zagunis celebrates her victory over China's Min Zhu on her way to the saber fencing semifinals Wednesday.
Mariel Zagunis celebrates her victory over China's Min Zhu on her… (Jonathan Brady / EPA )

LONDON — Saber fencer Mariel Zagunis approached this day with a steely resolve.

After each of her first three matches Wednesday, she walked briskly through the mixed zone — where reporters can talk briefly to athletes — with a stern expression and no intention of stopping, even when she had a three-hour break after moving into the semifinals.

That may reflect the intense internal pressure she feels to win a third straight saber medal.  It also is not uncommon, since track athletes take the same approach when they have two races in a short period of time.

“She wants to concentrate,” said her longtime coach, Ed Korfanty.

The top-seeded Zagunis, the U.S. flag bearer in the opening ceremony, rolled into the semis with 15-7, 15-9, and 15-7 wins. The three matches took place within 2½ hours.

She meets fourth-seeded Kim Jiyeon of Korea in the semifinals.

“She got to the top four like I expected, and now [come] the tough opponents,”  Korfanty said.  “The other three are very good.”

The second seed, reigning world champion Sofia Velikaia of Russia, eliminated the other U.S. fencer, Dagmara Wozniak, 15-13, in the quarterfinals.

Velikaia meets No. 3 seed Olga Kharlan of Ukraine in the other semifinal.

Wozniak has been impressed with Zagunis’ mind-set as the two warm up together before each bout.

“Mariel is feeling very confident, and she is fencing very well today,” Wozniak said. “A 'three-peat' I think is definitely coming.  I’ll be out there supporting my teammate because if I don’t take the gold, I ... want her to.”

When Zagunis won her first gold medal in 2004 she was the first U.S. fencer to do it in 100 years.

Kofranty was asked how she can be so good from Games to Games.

“She’s a great athlete, and she listens to her coach,” he said with a laugh. “Mariel is still businesslike when it comes to competition and practice. She just focuses.

“From Olympics to Olympics, fencing changes. Mariel adapts, and we try to improve this way. She very quickly adjusts to the changes.”

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