Mariel Zagunis on what it means to be an Olympic athlete

/ by Jamie Hudson
Presented By Toyota

Beaverton's own Mariel Zagunis, 36, is the most decorated fencer in the history of USA Fencing.

Born in Portland, Oregon to Robert and Cathy Zagunis, Zagunis comes from a lineage of athletes. Her Parents were both rowers on the 1976 U.S. Olympic Team.

She has become a fencing superstar.

Her parents were both collegiate rowers, while her father was on the Oregon State rowing team.

Despite not earning her fifth individual Olympic medal in the Tokyo Games this year after falling in the quarterfinals of individual saber, she discussed what it means to be an Olympic athlete ahead of her fifth Olympic games.

To me, being an Olympic athlete is one of the highest honors that any athlete can achieve.

Mariel Zagunis

“For fencing especially, the Olympics is the most important and significant event in our sport. So becoming an Olympian and much less to do it four times, hoping for a fifth is something that I’m incredibly proud of,” Zagunis added.

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, becoming the first American to win an Olympic fencing gold medal in 100 years.


She was just 19 years old.

When I get to the Olympics I’m so honored to represent my country, to represent myself, and to be there representing all the hard work and sacrifices that it takes to even make yourself an Olympian in the first place, much less win a gold medal.

Mariel Zagunis

Zagunis says she has her parents to thank for helping her to pursue her dreams of being an Olympian.

 “I always wanted to follow in my parents footsteps,” Mariel said.

“They really pushed me and motivated me in all the right ways and I think that that was invaluable to my success.”

Zagunis won gold medals in individual saber at the 2004 and 2008 Games. She earned bronze medals in team saber at the 2008 and 2016 Olympics. 

Zagunis and the United States were looking to bring home their third gold medal in the team event, but over the weekend the team placed sixth in women's saber.