Olympics

Olympic saber fencer Mariel Zagunis: "Strength is beauty and power is awesome"

/ by Jamie Hudson
Presented By Toyota
Olympics

Beaverton's own Mariel Zagunis is the most decorated fencer in the history of USA Fencing. Her Parents were both rowers on the 1976 U.S. Olympic Team.

With her sights now set on Tokyo, Zagunis discussed how gender equality has come a long way in fencing.

“One of the biggest improvements in our sport was actually letting women fence saber and seeing that yes, we can do this,” Zagunis explained.

The four-time Olympic medalist grew up in Beaverton, Oregon and attended Valley Catholic from kindergarten all the way to 12th grade. She picked up a saber for the first time at the age of 10.

And now, Zagunis is continuing the work of gender equality in the sport of fencing.

“Women’s saber was in the Olympics for the first time in 2004,” Zagunis said. “So you can imagine, fencing being one of the original sports in the Olympic games since 1896 and we didn’t even get gender equality until 2004. I think that was a really great movement forward.”

Since then, women’s saber has been growing, and women’s fencing in general has been growing… I think that there still could be a lot of improvements as far as the way that female athletes are perceived, especially in fencing.

Mariel Zagunis

In 2004, Zagunis won her first Olympic gold at the 2004 Athens Games in individual saber after she defeated Chinese fencer Xue Tan in the championship round, 15–9. With the victory she also became the first American to win an Olympic fencing gold medal in 100 years.

 

She was just 19 years old.

Here is a list of Zagunis' full accomplishments, via TeamUSA:

Olympic Experience

· Four-time Olympian (2004, 2008, 2012, 2016); Four-time Olympic medalist (2 golds, 2 bronze)

· Rio 2016 Olympic Games, 9th (individual); bronze (team)

· London 2012 Olympic Games, 4th (individual)

· Beijing 2008 Olympic Games, gold (individual); bronze (team)

· Athens 2004 Olympic Games, gold (individual)

World Championship Experience

· Most recent: 2019 – 14th (individual)

· Years of participation: 2000-2017, 2019-present

· Medals: 14 (5 golds, 5 silvers, 4 bronzes)

· Gold – 2000 (team); 2005 (team); 2009 (individual); 2010 (individual); 2014 (team)

· Silver – 2004 (team); 2006 (individual, team); 2011 (individual); 2014 (individual)

· Bronze – 2011 (team); 2012 (team); 2013 (team); 2015 (team)

 

Other Career Highlights

· 2015 Pan American Games, gold (team); 8th (individual)

· 2011 Pan American Games, gold (individual, team)

“Fencing can be very aggressive,” Zagunis said. “We have our suit of armor on and we’re screaming in each other’s faces and if this was real life, we’d literally be fighting to the death. So it seems to some people – maybe not so feminine.” 

But I think that strength is beauty and power is awesome and women are just as capable as men.

And Zagunis has proven just that.

“I’ve fenced plenty of men in practice, and they don’t have us compete together, but I’ve fenced men who think that there’s no way a woman could beat them, and I have and it feels pretty good.”