Mariel Leigh Zagunis was born on March 3, 1985 in Beaverton, Oregon. She is an American Olympic sabre fencer, of Lithuanian heritage. She won the gold medals in the individual sabre at the 2004 Summer Olympics and the 2008 Summer Olympics. She is only the second American ever to have won a gold medal in Olympic fencing.
Zagunis is the daughter of Olympians. Her parents, Robert and Cathy Zagunis, were collegiate rowers, at Oregon State University and Connecticut College, respectively, before competing with the U.S. rowing team at the 1976 Summer Olympics in Montreal. Her older brother Marten and younger brother Merrick also fence sabre. She was the first American fencer to hold the Jr. World Cup Champion title 2002, and she did so three years in a row 2002, 2003 and 2004. She is the youngest fencer ever to win the FIE World Championship gold, and the youngest fencer to win three FIE medals in one season. Zagunis won the FIE over-all medal three years in a row. She was the first fencer in the history of the sport to hold more than two World Champion titles in one season.
She an athletic scholarship and entered the University of Notre Dame in 2004 on behalf of that scholarship. In October 2005, Zagunis won her seventh World Champion title at the Leipzig, Germany World Championships, in the women's team event. A year later at the 2006 World Fencing Championships she won the silver, after losing the final to Rebecca Ward. She is the second U.S. fencer in history to have won the World Cup total points Title from the FIE. The Women's Sabre event was being contested for the first time at the 2004 Summer Olympics. Zagunis did not directly qualify to fence in the tournament. However, Nigeria decided not to send their qualifying fencer to the tournament, and as the next highest seeded fencer in the world, Zagunis was selected to represent the United States at the 2004 Summer Olympics.
Zagunis entered the 2008 Summer Olympics seeded sixth. She received a bye in the first round, entering the tournament when there were 32 fencers remaining. She trailed at the break in her round of 32 matches against Sandra Sassine 8–7, but scored eight of the last ten touches to win 15–10. She then defeated Bogna Jozwiak 15–13 in the Round of 16. She beat Bao Yingying in the quarterfinals, 15–9. Zagunis then faced her training partner from the Oregon Fencing Alliance, Rebecca Ward, in the semifinals and defeated her 15–11. In the gold medal match, Zagunis faced the other top seed in the tournament, Sada Jacobson, and won, 15–8. With Ward's victory in the bronze medal match, fencers from the USA had won all three medals in the individual event.
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