Late qualifier Zagunis wins the gold for U.S.

ATHENS, Greece -- The American who nearly didn't go to the Olympics won her nation's first fencing gold medal in a century.
Mariel Zagunis won the first Olympic women's saber competition Tuesday night, beating former world champion Tan Xue of China 15-9 in the final. After she won the last point, Zagunis ripped off her mask, raised her arms and was mobbed by members of the U.S. team who rushed onto the strip and tossed her into the air.
"There's no better feeling than being thrown up there after becoming champion of anything," she said. "I'm glad they could get on stage and celebrate with me like that."
American Sada Jacobson, ranked No. 1 in the world, lost to Tan in the semifinals but bounced back to take the bronze.
Zagunis, of Beaverton, Ore., controlled the final, charging in on the opening point to score the first touch. Throughout the bout she took the initiative, scoring repeatedly on direct attacks. She also displayed the versatility to parry Tan's advances and score on the counterattack.
"She practically showed everything we coaches wish to see in a bout," her coach, Ed Korfanty, said.
She almost didn't get to show her skills at the Olympics at all. At the April cutoff date for qualifying, Sada Jacobson was No. 1 in the world, her sister Emily was No. 10 and Zagunis No. 11.
She didn't earn a spot on the U.S. team until June, when the Nigerian Olympic Committee declined to have its fencer -- Jacqueline Esimaje -- participate in the competition. That opened up a spot in the field, which Zagunis filled as the highest-ranked fencer in the world who had not already qualified.
Women's saber is the newest of fencing's six disciplines and is making its first appearance in the Olympics. The first world championship in women's saber was held in 1999.
Saber is the fastest of fencing's three weapons. The target area is the entire body above the bend in the hips, including the head. Unlike in foil and epee, saber fencers can score with the tip or the edge of the blade.
Jacobson defeated Catalina Gheorghitoaia 15-7 to win the bronze.
Associated Press
Copyright 2004 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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