Zagunis Gets the Gold!
August 18, 2004 9:07 AM   Subscribe

Mariel Zagunis has become the first United States woman fencer to ever win a gold medal, the first US fencer to win a gold since Albertson Van Zo Post won an extinct event called Single Sticks in 1904, and the first US fencer to win any medal at all since Peter Westbrook in 1984. Zagunis fences Sabre, along with her fellow medal winner (and #1 world ranked womens saberist) Sada Jacobson and former medalist and current coach and philanthropist Peter Westbrook. Could this be the start of a new championship sabre squad in the US? Well, no, not if you look at the men's sabre results.
posted by Inkoate (33 comments total)
Even though fencing is scored electronically, the role of the director in an event such as sabre shouldn't be underestimated. The director has to determine sift through the lightning fast actions of both fencers, apply the rules to the actions and determine which fencer scores a point, all immediately after the light goes off. I've seen Keeth Smart and Ivan Lee fence, on a good day they can be the best in the world, on a bad day they can lose to Joe Schmoe. Fencing is like that. World class fencing even more so.

I'm still amazed at how quickly women's sabre has taken off since it has only been around competitively for something like a decade.

on preview: heh, yeah, yeah fencing is boring. Just be glad its an article about women's sabre and not men's epeé [which is what i fence]. now THAT is boring.
posted by sciurus at 9:39 AM on August 18, 2004

Great. I look forward to posting upon postings about medal winners. I don't think I saw anything about wasn't it India's first silver medal winner yesterday..wonder why not?
posted by davebushe at 9:40 AM on August 18, 2004

some guy from belarus won the men's shot put
posted by mr.marx at 9:41 AM on August 18, 2004

Also, please make sure that you don't potentially spoil anything before you post. It doesn't appear like this will be broadcast in the U.S, but then fencing isn't a very big sport here. But what about other networks and other countries? And if you enjoy watching the prime-time wrap-up highlight shows on NBC, which will surely at least mention this, without knowing who wins, well, now you can't.

Anyway, my point is that this is getting into dangerous territority, and personally I'd prefer it if we just left off posting about specific results until at least 24 hours after they occur. This was posted something like 10 minutes after.
posted by ChasFile at 9:42 AM on August 18, 2004

Chas, the women's sabre finals were held yesterday during the day and were on TV last night (in the US) on Bravo at 6PM EST. If you missed it already, you're not gonna see it again. I do offer my apologies to anyone who I ruined it for, though, on the off chance that it did happen.
posted by Inkoate at 9:46 AM on August 18, 2004

Ha, everybody knows people with reflexes fence foil. Anyway, I'm afraid I must agree that "Ooh, a US fencer won after a very long time of no US fencers winning" does not make a good post. Perhaps you could make the people over at sportsfilter happy with it?
posted by fvw at 9:48 AM on August 18, 2004

I'm an idiot.
posted by ChasFile at 9:53 AM on August 18, 2004

I don't think I saw anything about wasn't it India's first silver medal winner yesterday ...

seconded. this is ego-driven bullshit, while this thread isn't (unless you're a fencer ...), but they're both lame.

but can you imagine if everyone with an interesting Olympic story posted it on the front page? maybe all Olympic-related stories can now be posted here? that could save this turd. if the sabre-related links were better, it would be passable.
posted by mrgrimm at 9:56 AM on August 18, 2004

Well, for those of us interested in fencing, this is a great post. Only 10 years ago, there was talk of taking fencing out of the Olympics, and a lot of thought had gone into how to make the sport more telegenic. It used to be that women competed only in foil... to see an American receive a medal for the first time in 100 years in one of the modern Olympics' oldest sports is huge.

"Yawn" as in "Yawn, spectator sports"

spazzm, those of us who actively participate (or used to participate) in sports tend to be very interested in watching and reading about other people who compete in the same sports that we do. We are particularly interested in seeing such things performed at skill levels much higher than our own.

And what the heck is "Single Sticks"?
posted by deanc at 10:08 AM on August 18, 2004

I think its a pretty good shot for a first post.

The US has a hard time keeping up with the Old Guard over in Europe who've been fencing for hundreds of years and where the interest is much higher. I wonder if the US will ever be able to field a fully World Class team when the talent pools over in Europe are so much larger. They manage to produce outstanding individuals, but just don't have the depth.

spazzm - no flames from me, i'm just used to people thinking that fencing is only slightly less boring than watching a Magic: The Gathering tournament on EPSN12.
posted by sciurus at 10:09 AM on August 18, 2004

Single Stick: An archaic form of fencing with basket-hilted wooden sticks. Sounds kind of fun, if a bit bruise-prone.
posted by sciurus at 10:14 AM on August 18, 2004

personally I'd prefer it if we just left off posting about specific results until at least 24 hours after they occur

Personally, I'd prefer it if we just lived in the real world, on real time, instead of trying to force everyone to adapt to the artificial time created and imposed by NBC...
posted by rushmc at 10:15 AM on August 18, 2004

This was a great event. And this is one of my favorite sports pictures of all time.
posted by lumpenprole at 10:17 AM on August 18, 2004

"Single stick" is more or less the ancestor of today's SCA heavy combat.
posted by Sidhedevil at 10:23 AM on August 18, 2004

Fencing a spectator sport? Ha! Please inform the American media of that. I can't even get tapes of the Men's epee here in the states. Spazzm, I think you should actually go participate in a sport yourself, and then you might understand why athletes enjoy watching the best in the world compete. Every sport I follow as a spectator, I was drawn in as a competitor. The only exception was basketball, which I began watching under instruction from my fencing coach, to learn about momentum and mental strength. Now I ball it up a couple times a week.

Sciurus is correct in pointing out that the male US sabre fencer, Keeth smart is also a top world-class competitor (I think he was ranked first going into the Olympics) but on any given day in direct elimination the winner is difficult to predict. Mariel Zagunis did not even originally qualify for the US team, she was able to fill a slot vacated by the Nigerian's. Sada Jacobsen was the one expected to perform.

However, I wouldn't pin the unpredictability of the results on the director. In fact it works the opposite way. In Epee, where the judgement of the director is far less significant, the results are much more variable. In foil and sabre, where the director plays a more significant role and the action is more difficult to interpret, the "reputation factor" comes into play. In all sports, close calls go to the more established competitors. As a teammate used to say: "top fencers establish priority in the parking lot."

The USA Sabre team has definitely established itself as a world competitor, and the young foil and epeeists are not far behind. They are powered by the influx of top eastern european coaches that began emigrating to the U.S. following Glasnost, bringing with them their technique that was decades more advanced than prevailing US coaching. Young Soren Thompson followed up his 8th place worlds finish of last year by taking 7th in epee at the Olympics. Look for him to do some damage in world competition in years to come.

If this gold garners the attention of the US media, me might be looking forward to a renaissance of American fencing.
posted by Manjusri at 10:34 AM on August 18, 2004

It looks like she's left handed (as is her competitor). When I fenced in college (foil), as a southpaw I won a lot more than I deserved to because a lot of competitors just weren't trained enough against lefties. I wouldn't be surprised if this was a left hand dominated sport. Anyone know any more about this?
posted by Alison at 10:37 AM on August 18, 2004

alison: IIRC the American bronze winner was also left handed.

Local coverage on Zagunis: In Beaverton, the sisters pray and Oregon's Golden Girl
posted by turbodog at 10:53 AM on August 18, 2004

"I wouldn't be surprised if this was a left hand dominated sport."

Um, by your reasoning, does that make sense? The lefties would have a small advantage at beginner levels; but as that advantage worked in their favor it'd be dminished as their better right-handed opponents would have had more experience facting lefties than lower-skilled opponents (assuming they train and compete at their own levels a lot).

The system would move into equilibrium where there should be just about exactly the increased representation of lefties in the upper ranks as that increased representation makes those opponents prepared to deal with them.

The only problem with this model is that it doesn't take into account that an individual competitor is indivisible (that's why the "only one lefty in the world" scenario would disprove my theory), or various complexities. In general, though, assuming there's enough lefties (and there is), I'd bet that the increased representation of lefties in the middle-to-upper levels of fencing should be understood to quantify the advantage that lefties have over righties who are underprepared to face them. Cool, huh?

(On Preview) Spazzm: I sorta kinda called out this post in MeTa. More info is to be found there, I imagine.
posted by Ethereal Bligh at 11:05 AM on August 18, 2004

Fencing a left-handed opponent requires dramatically different technique than versus a right-hander. Since most people train against righties, lefties enjoy considerable success, especially in the introductory levels of the sport. Thus encouraged, many stick with the sport, resulting in a disproportionate number of lefties at the more advanced levels.

Elite competitors train against both, and the difference is minimized, but still exists to some degree. My coach was ambidextrous and gave lessons with alternating hands. Fully half my team was left-handed and I always enjoyed facing a leftie as I had quite a few tricks up my sleeve in store for them.
posted by Manjusri at 11:16 AM on August 18, 2004

Naturally you would have expected her to win using Capo Ferro, though I often find a Tibault will counter a Capo Ferro (unless of course she had also studied her Agrippa - which she has).

/Inigo Montoya
posted by longbaugh at 11:17 AM on August 18, 2004

Is the requisite this thread doesn't belong bitching over?...good. Next time a PHISH post or some other bullshit comes up let's see everyone who finds it irrelevant speak up and denigrate the post. If I'm not interested in a post, I move along to the next post. What's so hard about that? What's with the tendency for people to let loose of their inner didact here? Chill out with the backseat moderating already.

That said..isn't this is the first year for women's sabre? I don't think it's likely to spur any sort of fencing renaissance in America (but I wish it would). First, anyone who's been on the piste knows how expensive it is, especially here, scrounging for good equipment, coaching and salles. Second, like Manjusri touched upon, the action of fencing is so fast, it usually takes a fencer to follow it and find it interesting. I think the predominant reason for the improvement of fencing in the US is the eastern bloc coaches that are coming here, but the European programs are still way beyond anything in the states. Oh well.

Personally Alison, I loved fencing lefties, my strength coach was a lefty and really gave me insight into their weaknesses and strengths. Good post Ink, so what if it's not the "best of the web", it has made for some decent conversation!
posted by tetsuo at 11:27 AM on August 18, 2004

tetsuo: I have read a number of articles attributing some of the recent success to former Eastern Bloc countries coming over to coach. Unfortunately all the barriers you mention to more popular acceptence of fencing in the US are true, especially the cost problems. That's the only reason I'm not an active sabereur myself. I just can't afford it at this point in my life.
posted by Inkoate at 11:36 AM on August 18, 2004

Has there been a post about Iraq's soccer team yet? Politics and sports all in the same thread, yo!
posted by afx114 at 12:33 PM on August 18, 2004

It was on Bravo? No wonder I couldn't find it. *fume*

Just reading about it is enough to make me think about dusting off my foil. (Now, where is it?)
posted by JoanArkham at 12:56 PM on August 18, 2004

[there was a retort here to some comments that got deleted while I was away from my desk - so anyway...]

I think there is nowhere near enough olympic posts, and would hope that anyone with an interesting angle or story would go ahead and post it.

(I have never been all that great at fencing (sabre, mostly), but I love to watch it,
and I did get to hang out with Vincent Bradford once.)
posted by milovoo at 1:40 PM on August 18, 2004

Zagunis was not the first US woman to win a fencing medal, though. That honor went to Sada Jacobson for getting the bronze, the match for which was held before the gold medal match. (In an amusing mistake, the results page at says that Sada's sister Emily won the bronze medal match.)
posted by etoile at 3:01 PM on August 18, 2004

I'm all about hitting other people with swords. The idea of turning it into a regulated sport just seems to take all the fun out of it, though. If only they'd bring back dueling, and then we'd all have crazy sword stories.
posted by Pseudoephedrine at 3:34 PM on August 18, 2004

Next time a PHISH post or some other bullshit comes up let's see everyone who finds it irrelevant speak up and denigrate the post.

I was soooo tempted...but managed to restrain myself, just.
posted by rushmc at 3:52 PM on August 18, 2004

I thought it was a good post. Not in a "The USA rawks!" way, but in that it's progress in women's athletics and bringing some diversity to the sports that get attention here in the US. Fencing is exciting and fast and something different. Plus, Peter Westbrook is a really neat guy.

I'd like to see posts on interesting stories, achievements, etc. dealing with any country competing at the Olympics.
posted by lobakgo at 4:17 PM on August 18, 2004

This guy takes some excellent fencing photos.
posted by planetkyoto at 4:27 PM on August 18, 2004

I was soooo tempted...but managed to restrain myself, just.

Well, if I offended your PHISHy sensibilities, pardon me, I meant it as an example of a post I personally could care less about, but didn't see the need to attack because I'm not the only one using the board..fair enough?
posted by tetsuo at 5:22 PM on August 18, 2004

Um, I'm agreeing with you, tetsuo.
posted by rushmc at 12:01 AM on August 19, 2004

Sorry, sort of ambiguous, didn't know if you were angry because I blasphemed against the holy name of PHISH or not exactly a PHISH aficionado. After I posted it myself I thought it might be a bit harsh to single that one out, and since my whole gripe is pretty much about not being an asshole, I figured I'd err on the side of caution.
posted by tetsuo at 4:54 AM on August 19, 2004

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